Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Escaping the confines of living in Sault Ste. Marie, Wesley (David Alpay) moved to Toronto five years ago to study Law. Now he reluctantly returns home, at the request of his friend Nina (Kaniehtiio Horn), to second chair at the murder trial of her brother Benny who pummeled a man to death. Reuniting with old friends, especially with the girlfriend he left behind without any warnings, makes Wesley re-evaluate his past, present and maybe his future.
Thus sets the stage for Director Michelle Ouellet’s mostly-impressive Feature PRODIGALS. Adapted from a Stage Play by Sean Minogue, the Film succeeds beautifully in capturing the nuances of living in a small northern Ontario town. From sipping Tim Hortons coffee in front of the Beer Store to an early morning pick-up hockey game, I was struck by the authenticity of the interactions. I enjoyed the banter and the chemistry from all the male characters and wanted to spend more time with them, whether it be at a child’s birthday party, at the local pub or diner where jukeboxes still exist or playing cards around a kitchen table. I was completely drawn-in and entertained by the situations and wished the Movie focused more on that instead of the weaker centerpiece of the Movie, which is the murder trial.
Another glaring inconsistency is how poorly developed the two lead female characters are underwritten and I have enormous respect for Sara Canning playing Jen, Wesley’s ex-girlfriend. She did the best she could with a character that was basically shrill and unlikeable. Whereas there was no need of a crystal ball to see that she would once again hook up with Wesley behind her boyfriend’s back, her simple gesture of putting on a Blue Rodeo tee shirt was endearing.
The male characters were more fleshed out and all the actors had their moments to shine and they all did so wonderfully, particularly Jameson Parker as Greg whose humour and insightful comments were welcomed when situations veered towards dour. Probably best known for being in Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, the striking Alpay rises above and beyond the surprising plot twist and some overly melodramatic scenarios. Wesley’s journey into self-realization, in a landscape filled with underlying resentment and violence, is fascinating to watch.
PRODIGALS is a welcome addition to the realm of Canadian Film. The Original Score by David Ward and Cinematography by Lindsay George are impressive. Had the female roles been more substantial and some of the melodrama toned-down, PRODIGALS could have been flawless.
levelFILM release PRODIGALS opens June 8, 2018 at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto. There will have a Q&A with the Filmmakers after the 6:50pm screening on opening night.