A man sits at a desk, in a room so clean and neat as to be that of a monk or a model prisoner, writing in a notebook. His internal monologue plays like a voiceover compared to sandpaper; In this case, it’s a horticulture lecture about French and British gardens. If you weren’t aware that you were watching the opening shots of a Paul Schrader movie, you’d think you were watching a parody of one. For more than 50 years, the legendary screenwriter and director has turned God’s stable of Lonely Men into outspoken antiheroes for the ages. They can be taxi drivers or Armani-clad gigolos, famous writers or anonymous gamblers, big-city drug dealers or country priests. These characters are linked by an existential turmoil that, more often than not, boils down to violence and self-destruction. Each of them has their own personal demons. They all have Shredder’s distinctive voice.
his latest, master gardener, caps an unofficial trilogy of back-to-Bresseonian-basics films that have signaled not so much a comeback as an incredible late-act second wind. And though this tale of a stoic landlord doesn’t have the heft of Schrader’s 2017 masterpiece improved before or his 2021 restless royal flush card counter, it’s still the kind of brooding, eyebrow-raising drama that forces you to answer the big questions. Does someone’s past, partially suppressed or completely covered up, permanently mark their future? Is redemption possible when their moral compass is broken and only half-repaired? And how far are you willing to walk in that person’s worn-out shoes to find out?
Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) moves into Greenwood Gardens, a lush oasis on a Louisiana estate, with a friend named Norma (Sigourney Weaver, flexing some elitist entitlement chops). He’s a button-the-top-button kind of guy, his hair neatly trimmed and combed, his voice devoid of studious inflection. There’s an institutional vibe around him, suggesting either the military or hard times. When Narvell tries to cheer his team on for an upcoming charity event, he comes within striking distance of being inspirational; When speaking to Norma, he can be sarcastic (“It’s always fun to watch grown men in pastel pants outdo each other for flowers”). But this quiet boy in overalls always seems to be carefully hiding anything that might give away his thoughts or feelings. Narvel is not just a closed book. It is a padlocked volume in a clear plain brown cover.
None of that stops Norma from having dinner with him and having sex – possibly consensual, definitely a power move on his part – with his insanely handsome worker once a week. Nor does it stop him from asking her for a big favor: his granddaughter Maya (Quintessa Swindell) is in trouble, and he needs this young lady’s help. She wants Narvel to teach her how to maintain a garden and keep her thumb green. Make him your apprentice, the boss tells him. This will give it structure. When Maya shows up, she does what she can to show this reluctant addition to the ropes on her team. The relationship is edgy. His addiction issues are a problem, although they are not a secret.
What Is A mystery is how Narvel learned the art of nurturing plant life, which turns out to involve the Feds, and turns on his old friends to save himself. And when this cool guy takes off his shirt and reveals a torso covered in swastikas and white-power tattoos, you really get a sense of how deep this man’s history of oppression and violence runs. He bears no animosity towards Maya, who is black – there is a tension between them, yet it is of a more sexual kind. Still, you get the sense that lines are being crossed here. Some are unsaid (see: Norma’s attachment), some are obvious (the custodial relationship) and, once Narvel gets rid of drug-dealer acquaintances, his FBI case handler (Esai Morales, having much to do with little screen time ) tried to use. Maya’s, some are morally dull.
Schrader knows he’s playing with dynamite here, undoing hate groups and hints of age-discrepancy romance and class warfare in this tale of a tightly wound man. He’s also reluctant to light the fuse on these hot-button issues, which remain master gardener From venturing into the field of exploitation yet you feel that he is not really interested in exploring any socio-political aspects. They’re just there to raise the stakes, to further this particular antihero’s journey. He is by no means set out to make a film with a message. But there is a problematic darkness that never goes away.
None of this takes away from the actors – the fact that Edgerton delivers her best screen performance courtesy of any role that requires her to bare everything is beyond impressive – or the adults. From Schrader’s determination to make mature films about, for adults. It’s just that a sense of missed opportunity hangs over it like a husband-wife haze. Considering how he juxtaposes the mental toll of torture with climate change and spiritual matters, respectively, in the other works of this loose trilogy, you can’t help but feel that this film’s title-torn subject matter is toxic. reduced to window dressing. They are a means to an end; And at times, a source of frustration with the film as it toys with ideas isn’t quite connecting with the character’s white-knuckle ride. You don’t need to know exactly what makes a narwhal. You need to know how all these things feed into what the man behind the camera is trying to say, big picture-wise and character study-wise. Something important has been cut and patted on the periphery.
That the journey would end in a moment of violence isn’t surprising, though – all ticking timebombs eventually explode, and Shredder relentlessly guides his pressurized opponents to their required kabooms. what is the difference master gardener to his brothers that violence is neither quietness nor annihilation; He’s taking an almost perverse glee in not serving up bloodshed for once, all the better to shock the audience by his final endgame. This may be the first Shredder film that allows his signature God’s Lonely Man to experience a state of grace. Even Adam did not get a chance to re-enter the Garden of Eden after being expelled. At the beginning the man at the desk is allowed to leave the room for a time, and a slow dance is performed in dim lighting. Even if the film flops, it is explosive in itself.