Thursday, June 13, 2024

“OH, CANADA”

THE STORYLeonard Fife is a terminally ill writer and filmmaker who has agreed to have his final testament of his life filmed by documentary filmmakers Malcolm and Diana, but proves to be an unreliable narrator due to his failing and distorted memory.

THE CASTRichard Gere, Jacob Elordi, Uma Thurman, Michael Imperioli & Victoria Hill

THE TEAMPaul Schrader (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes


There’s an old saying about the nature of not telling the whole truth: “No secret can remain hidden forever.” That can be the case for many experiences human beings go through in an entire lifetime, but it can also be the case for those who don’t want to die holding onto the burden of regret. It’s become a time-honored tradition that many people confess their past sins upon their deathbed, which is a bit of a cliché. But this cliché tends to come from an authentic place, a theme that can spark creativity and unburden one’s soul when least expected.

Such is the situation when Russell Banks wrote the novel “Foregone,” a story about a world-renowned documentarian who is interviewed during his last days on Earth about his past as a Vietnam War draft dodger. Banks passed away in 2023, but the premise of his book lives on in film via legendary director and Academy Award-nominated writer Paul Schrader (“First Reformed“), who has now helmed and adapted the story into a feature-length film called “Oh, Canada.” The movie premiered to a short standing ovation at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, reflecting the well-received reception for the acting performances from its stellar cast, mixed with the sense that the film doesn’t fully capture the emotional depth of a man spilling secrets to clear his conscience, something many wondered if Schrader would be channeling through this film for himself at this stage in his life.

“Oh, Canada” stars Richard Gere as said documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, while Australian actor Jacob Elordi embodies Fife’s younger self. “Pulp Fiction” alum Uma Thurman portrays Fife’s devoted yet long-suffering wife, Emma, who isn’t convinced that an interview on camera is the wisest decision for her husband’s legacy as a man and respected director. But Fife doesn’t relent; he soldiers on (pun intended) by confessing everything under the sun, even when unprovoked: how he left his first wife for another woman, how he ghosted his next wife and young son in fear of getting drafted and ultimately killed like so were in the name of what was viewed as a pointless war by leftist activists of the time.

The film throttles back and forth between 1968, where a young Fife (Elordi) is trying his best to live everyday life as a womanizer and photography expert, and 2023, where Gere takes on the character being interviewed by his former protegee, Malcolm (Michael Imperioli). Gere is quite good in these scenes, mainly when Schrader utilizes a narrative inner voice that signals exactly how an older gentleman nearing the end of life might feel about those around him. There’s a pointed scene where Gere’s Fife thinks to himself about being filmed on camera rather than the one doing the filming, noting that he hopes the person applying makeup to his face doesn’t get a whiff of his old man smell.  For a former lothario, this admission must feel embarrassing, to say the least, and all too real.

But Fife’s mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, and he easily gets confused about what’s happening to him in the present and what occurred in the past. Attempting to finally tell his life story and all of his truths near death, his confusion gets the better of him, best told through Schrader’s use of swapping Gere in for Elordi in certain scenes. Often confusing the audience and Fife alike by jumping from color to black-and-white, Schrader’s adaptation provides context to Fife’s decision to flee to Canada to avoid the draft, his award-winning work as a filmmaker in Montreal, and the secrets he’s kept hidden from the world including those who believe they know him best. This creates the illusion of an unreliable narrator as the audience isn’t sure what’s a truth and what remains a lie.

The film might believe it’s working like a confession to a priest to absolve all sins before leaving this world. Still, Schrader’s adaptation of Banks’ novel is a showcase of outstanding performances without an investment in emotional depth. Gere, Elordi, and Thurman are top-notch here, but Schrader’s short runtime of around 90 minutes leaves little room for their characters to grow with full resonance. Fife is a wildly interesting figure, notably because of his innate ability to understand his own arrogance, the generosity he gives to his creative endeavors, and his resilience when faced with the regret he feels upon his deathbed. But so much of that plane doesn’t land on the runway due to the surface-level emotions the audience is given.

“Oh, Canada” is a wonderful second collaboration between Richard Gere and director Paul Schrader, who initially worked together on 1980’s “American Gigolo,” which served as Gere’s breakout role. But good performances do not make a deep movie, especially considering the talented cast assembled here and the promise such material held for Schrader in a meta-context. The sequences that should emotionally vibrate, particularly those about growing old and not letting regret define one’s drive, don’t quite grab the attention Schrader hopes they do. The film is thinly veiled and lacks the depth its characters deserve. Still, it’s an acceptable compass for political resistance, owning up to the sins of the past, and coming to terms with mortality.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - It's nice to see Richard Gere again in full form, especially in a second collaboration with director Paul Schrader. The performances by him, Elordi, and Thurman are a welcome surprise.

THE BAD - Feels rushed with such a short runtime. The back-and-forth between time periods and overwrought narration don't give the characters enough emotional depth for the audience to invest in them.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>It's nice to see Richard Gere again in full form, especially in a second collaboration with director Paul Schrader. The performances by him, Elordi, and Thurman are a welcome surprise.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Feels rushed with such a short runtime. The back-and-forth between time periods and overwrought narration don't give the characters enough emotional depth for the audience to invest in them.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"OH, CANADA"