How long can you stay in your ideal world before reality hits?
We all have our respective obstacles and disappointments in life, and occasionally, we try to put a filter on our eyes to help keep us going. Given the world’s current situation, how can anyone not be tempted to do so? The other night, I got a chance to escape our current reality for a while when I went to a screening of Hunter Gatherer, which is the directorial debut of art director Josh Locy. With Danny McBride and David Gordon Green as executive producers, the film may actually have a chance to reach a wide audience. So, is it worth seeing?
The film stars Andre Royo (The Wire) as Ashley, a man who has been released from prison after three years. Immediately, he wants to pick right up from where he left off before he was incarcerated. Unfortunately, all of his friends could care less about his return, especially his ex-girlfriend, Linda, who fell in love with a garbage man, and his mother, who is keen on throwing him out. As disappointing as his situation is, Ashley is optimistic about getting his life back together. While pondering his next step, he befriends a young man named Jeremy, who makes a living testing out medical supplies and is trying to fix a respirator to save his ailing grandfather. Jeremy joins Ashley in a moneymaking scheme involving junking peoples’ refrigerators, while Ashley falls in love with Jeremy’s attractive aunt, despite still wanting to get back together with his ex.
The story of a released convict trying to reconnect with his loved ones does not sound like it will break any new ground. In addition, it does not sound like a pleasant story to watch, especially within the setting of South Central Los Angeles. However, it is wise not to judge a book by its cover, or a movie by its synopsis, as, surprisingly, the film’s execution is not as melancholic as the plot suggests. In fact, the first half almost plays like an episode of Seinfeld, particularly any subplot featuring George or Kramer. It doesn’t stay that way for long, as the last quarter will show, but its presentation is quite refreshing.
Movies about life after prison are often told as redemption stories that are driven by a moral agenda and give us a glimpse of the criminal’s world. However, this movie does not follow that script. Locy does not hammer us with morality and the film includes few references to Ashley’s criminal life, as alcohol, drugs, and guns are practically absent from the film. It is debatable whether or not this characterization of Ashley’s world accurately represents real life, but this mismatch might have been an intentional move by Locy. Too much focus on criminal details, when not handled properly, can strip the story and characters of their impact. By minimizing these, Locy seems more interested in letting the audience come to their own conclusions about these characters. And the characters here are enough to get the message across. Royo is a delightful screen presence, offering the kind of charisma similar to actor Don Cheadle. Royo is accompanied by a supporting cast of fine actors, including newcomer George Sample III, who gives a natural and heartfelt performance as Jeremy. Through the characters, Locy succeeds in showing that you can tell any story without displaying a heavy agenda. Are you taking notes, Tyler Perry?
Locy not only allows the audience to figure out the characters, but other aspects of the story as well. For example, it is not exactly clear why Ashley went to prison. Judging by his behavior and length of his prison term, his incarceration might have been the result of a scam gone awry. Even from the beginning, Locy introduces ambiguity as the movie opens with Ashley and his mother inviting people to a party, and we don’t know why. The film is abstract in many places, which further contributes to a sense of ambiguity. And the end will leave you scratching your head pondering what exactly happened.
Hunter Gatherer is a film that is worth checking out. It may be a small film, but it suggests a big future for both the director and its stars. While it may be a bit too ambiguous and abstract for some people, and certainly isn’t an upbeat film, it is engaging enough to distract us from our current problems, if only for 90 minutes.
Hunter Gatherer opens on Wednesday, November 16th.