By Adam Ray Palmer
The seventh film that I’ve covered at this year’s Berlinale is the James Schamus feature Indignation which is adapted from the Philip Roth novel.
Indignation is helmed by two actors that have both starred in many films but still seem to be called up-and-coming talents; I can only assume it is because they are both youthful.
Logan Lerman plays the male lead Marcus Messner and Sarah Gadon takes the leading lady role of Olivia Hutton….
In 1951, Marcus (Logan Lerman), a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey, attends a small Ohio college, where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection, amid the ongoing Korean War.
Indignation revolves around a number of topics. The film’s identity is built on issues of sexual repression and the difficulty of being an individual. For instance, Marcus is an atheist that grows up in a proud, Jewish family – this is where his struggles begin. He leaves his family’s (Kosher) butcher shop in New Jersey to attend Winesburg College, a Catholic school in central Ohio, where he studies law. He spends his time dodging social mishaps especially avoiding the Jewish fraternity.
This is James Schamus’ first film that he has directed himself. He can normally be associated with being Ang Lee’s long-time producer with acclaimed credits such as Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. You can tell James has been working with top drawer directors all his career because they have clearly rubbed off on him. Schamus delivers an intimate film that is made up of close up camera work and dialogue heavy scenes. The sequence involving Lerman and his Dean (Tracy Letts) is especially wordy but one of the quintessential scenes of the movie.
The two leads, Lerman and Gadon, is perfect casting. Logan is a great pick to play the intense Marcus with Sarah expertly casted as the alluring yet mysterious Olivia. Both protagonists have complex backgrounds to their characters as each of their stories is slowly revealed throughout to keep the audiences’ attention. As good as Lerman is, I think he is trumped by Sarah in the acting department. She is subtle, bizarre and a little unhinged. You always feel nervous around her because she has an unpredictable personality.
Lerman and Gadon both bring such charisma and conviction to their characters. You will them to be the classic, young loved-up couple. But as the film goes on, you know it will never be that simple. Roth’s writing must have been a dream to work with for James as the words just leap onto the screen. So many indie romances would have benefitted from Roth’s writing no doubt – perhaps even Lerman’s Wallflower.
Indignation is a great piece of work. Every aspect of the film is formidable. The production design, writing, acting and even the score. Jay Wadley’s strings really elevates the film to its full potential.
Indignation will no doubt get picked up around the world and so it should. The performances and screenplay is second to none. For a first stab at direction, Schamus must be thankful for such a talented cast and engaging script.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Indignation is yet to distribute rights around the world.