SXSW '13 Review: 'The Retrieval' is A Finely Crafted and Evocative Film
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SXSW '13 Review: 'The Retrieval' is A Finely Crafted and Evocative Film

nullThe Retrieval, which premiered at SXSW this year, almost

slipped under our noses prior to our preview of it a little over a month

ago.  It’s a film well deserving of our appreciation

and attention. Writer/director Chris

Eska (2007’s August Evening) has crafted a very unique and cleverly scripted

tale about a young boy named Will, played impressively by newcomer Ashton

Sanders, who is sent along with his uncle Marcus (Keston John)

by a gang of bounty hunters to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott),

a wanted freed man. 

It’s an unexplored part of history dealing with slavery, especially on film; a

complex and jarring dilemma of slaves who are promised a reward for capturing

runaways and fugitive black freed men; these are oppressed slaves manipulated

and many times coerced into turning against other slaves for monetary gain and

survival.

The Retrieval is set during

the Civil War, which serves as more of a backdrop. But it’s very much a character-driven narrative between the

youngster Will and the seemingly hard-hearted Nate, a man who has undergone a

traumatic separation from his wife, while fleeing up north with intentions of

returning, and the loss of a child. Nate is reluctant to travel

with the orphan Will and his uncle Marcus, as he should be. Their plan is to

con Nate into going back to his hometown by telling him that his brother is

sick and waiting to see him. There’s a carefully orchestrated plan, which will

lead the bounty hunter gang to Nate’s recapture.

The young Will carries a

guilty conscience; his uncle is hardly a father figure, and Will begins to seek

the comfort and acceptance of the aloof Nate, more so after his uncle perishes

during a Union/Confederate encounter. There are so many elements to the narrative crafted with

authenticity and humanity. There’s survival, but there’s also the need for

kinship, friendship and familial ties, even if such are the surrogate kind.

These elements ultimately forgo survival at the very end, in a sense.

There have been comparisons to Django Unchained made on

the web from articles written about the film, which I find perplexing. The Retrieval could not be more distinct

in tone, style, and narrative in general.  It’s not an epic, grand scale production, but

its quality is very competent, especially for a limited budget. The film is

admirably photographed; its set design is striking, and its score is effective,

adding to the significance of the film. But it would all be remiss if it weren’t

for the nuanced and affecting performances by rather unknowns, especially

Tishuan Scott and the young Ashton Sanders, which make the film truly

compelling to watch.

Retrieval is more

of an observant, quietly affecting tale, but a few of its scenes are

suspenseful and pack their share of action; they are not necessarily brutal,

although they are definitely believable. The film reeks of authenticity, which

makes the viewing of it all the more intriguing.

Chris Eska’s sophomore feature film is a well-researched and

relevant drama with instinctual and gripping performances, which should

definitely garner some accolades along its festival run (Tishuan Scott won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for lead actor).  This resonant, gem of a film deserves no less

than a “sleeper hit” status, along with theatrical distribution, and I’m

particularly hopeful for the latter.

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