‘Kodachrome’: Film Review | TIFF 2017
Mark Raso’s sophomore feature starring Jason Sudeikis, Ed Harris and Elizabeth Olsen premiered in the Special Presentations section of the Canadian festival.
So what does Kodachrome mean to you? Perhaps more than just a catchy Paul Simon tune as it turns out. For thousands of professional photographers and many more amateurs, Kodachrome reigned as the definitive color slide film over several decades, contributing to stunning photo features and magazine covers that have shaped the fabric of American culture.
It all ended in 2010 after Kodak discontinued the product and the sole remaining lab ceased processing. It’s this historical coda that’s the focus of concern for the characters in Mark Raso’s richly resonant second feature, simultaneously a tribute to a seemingly bygone era and an affirmation of the sometimes unexpected resilience of father-son bonds.
Kodachrome provides an impressive vehicle for distinguished stage and screen veteran Ed Harris as a famed photojournalist facing terminal liver cancer with a few undeveloped rolls still in his possession. The real surprise here though is Jason Sudeikis, following on a strong run of comedies to deliver an outstanding, career-defining dramatic performance that will make the film a highly attractive addition to a thoughtfully curated specialized slate.
Sudeikis plays Matt Ryder, a divorced New York A&R exec for an independent recording label who finds himself at a crossroads. Although he firmly believes that talent is more important than passing style, he’s barely hanging onto his job in a rapidly changing industry, with only two weeks left to sign Brit hard rockers The Spare Sevens. Matt’s contrarian commitment to quality is not coincidentally a characteristic he shares with his irascible father Ben (Harris), although he’d never admit it, having parted ways with the old man years ago over differences both actual and imagined.
So it’s a shock when Ben reenters his life after his personal nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) unexpectedly shows up, pleading with Matt to reunite with his father. It seems that Ben has been holding onto some fairly dated rolls of film that he wants developed before the last Kodachrome lab (improbably located in southeastern Kansas) discontinues processing entirely. He’s planning a cross-country road trip and has summoned Matt to accompany him and Zooey, a proposal Matt flatly rejects.
Although he may know his father too well, he isn’t prepared for Zooey’s tenacity and borderline emotional blackmail. Ultimately it’s Ben’s well-connected manager Larry (Dennis Haysbert) who persuades Matt by offering to set up a meeting for him with The Spare Sevens. So with his career hanging in the balance, Matt reluctantly acquiesces to the journey, taking the wheel of Ben’s classic red convertible Saab with his father sprawled in the back seat so he can snap shots on his trusty Leica and Zooey riding shotgun.
Although shifting down to a more dramatic treatment than the comedic excesses of 2014’s This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper’s intricately literate script, adapted from A.G. Sulzberger’s 2010 New York Times article, still has things going wrong at nearly every turn. Matt and Ben (who acknowledges that he’s a “misanthropic asshole”) snipe at one another almost without provocation, Matt argues with Zooey over her insistence that he let down his guard with Ben, and Zooey firmly and repeatedly attempts to curb Ben’s worst antisocial inclinations.
Harris’ career has been associated with a variety of emotionally and artistically tormented characters, perhaps most memorably in his 2000 directorial debut Pollock (for which he received one of four Oscar nominations). These intimate portrayals of problematic male pride have almost become his own personal brand, so to say that Ben excels at caustic comments and quick-witted, imaginatively crafted insults means that Harris is perfectly suited to the role.
Sudeikis’ Matt is no shirker however, unloading a lifetime’s worth of resentment even over the brief span of an aborted reunion dinner with Ben. It’s the actor’s gradually revealed vulnerability and eventual acceptance of Matt’s uniquely painful family history that proves so striking though, as he strips away layers of the character’s carefully developed defenses and opens up to Zooey and later Ben.
Sudeikis truly excels in the role, repeatedly hitting emotional highs and lows with complete conviction and practiced awareness of the inevitability of human shortcomings and the redemptive power of acceptance. Olsen as Zooey serves as the buffer that tentatively prevents the two male personalities from combusting, providing a measure of reason and compassion that will surely test the limits of her easygoing tolerance.
Raso takes Kodachrome (shot entirely on Kodak motion picture film) as a departure point to keenly deconstruct the bonds that hold families together and the betrayals that drive them apart, relying on an unshowy style that emphasizes the actors’ captivating performances. And if the film wraps up a bit too neatly, it was always more about the journey anyway.
Production companies: The Gotham Group, 21 Laps Entertainment, Motion Picture Capital
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Ed Harris, Elizabeth Olsen, Bruce Greenwood, Wendy Crewson, Dennis Haysbert
Director: Mark Raso
Screenwriter: Jonathan Tropper
Producers: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Eric Robinson, Jonathan Tropper, Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Leon Clarance
Executive producers: Laure Vaysse, Jo Monk, Dan Cohen, Mary Anne Waterhouse, Lisa Wilson, Myles Nestel
Director of photography: Alan Poon
Production designer: Oleg Savytski
Editor: Geoff Ashenhurst
Music: Agatha Kaspar
Casting directors: John Buchan, Jason Knight
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)