The Lesser Blessed: Film Review
A boy wrestles with memories of a violent past in Anita Doron's thoughtful drama.
A coming-of-age film that weaves its cultural themes into the narrative without coming off like it's trying to teach you something, Anita Doron's The Lesser Blessed focuses on a teenaged boy in Canada's Northwest Territories whose First Nations heritage is far from the only thing setting him apart from his peers. Benjamin Bratt's name will draw some attention at arthouses, but his strong supporting performance is incidental to the sensitive film's appeal.
First-timer Joel Nathan Evans stars as Larry Sole, who stands out among his mostly white schoolmates but is less troubled by race than by scars -- both the ones covering his torso and the psychic reminders of the abusive father who evidently put them there. (Evans grew up in Fort Smith, the film's setting and hometown of Richard Van Camp, who wrote the source novel.) Bullied by former friend Darcy (Adam Butcher) and hopelessly in love with pale beauty Juliet (Chloe Rose), Larry suffers quietly, if not with stoicism.
Evans is unassuming and likeable in the role, especially after the introduction of a foil: Kiowa Gordon's Johnny Beck, the new kid in school who shares Larry's First Nations roots but is his social opposite -- a troublemaker and ladykiller who, predictably, is soon sleeping with Juliet. The three spend some happy time together (as happy as times can be for a kid who worships a girl his new best friend takes for granted), but Juliet's shifting attentions only provoke Darcy, and increasingly violent showdowns ensue.
Doron and cinematographer Brendan Steacy offer some stylish visual flourishes without interfering with the picture's convincing hinterlands atmosphere; Paul Intson's score furthers the sense of a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be.
Production Company: First Generation Films
Cast: Joel Nathan Evans, Kiowa Gordon, Chloe Rose, Tamara Podemski, Benjamin Bratt, Adam Butcher
Director-Screenwriter: Anita Doron; Based on the novel by Richard Van Camp
Producer: Christina Piovesan
Executive producer: Richard Van Camp
Director of photography: Brendan Steacy
Production designer: Peter Cosco
Music: Paul Intson
Costume designer: Sarah Millman
Editors: Geoff Ashenhurst, David Ostry
R, 85 minutes