The Red Robin: Montreal Review
Montreal World Film Festival, World Competition
Judd Hirsch, Ryan O'Nan, C.S. Lee, Caroline Lagerfelt, Jaime Ray Newman, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Dennis Flanagan
Michael Z. Wechsler
Judd Hirsch plays a dying psychiatrist confronting family secrets.
MONTREAL — A dying Nobel Prize-winner wrestles with his grown children's mental issues in Michael Z. Wechsler's The Red Robin, a film whose drawing-room feel and emphasis on fraught dialogue will have viewers swearing it started life as a play. Perched between psychological thriller and family drama, the picture will find some admirers on the fest circuit; theatrical possibilities will likely depend on marketing that plays up its creepiest elements.
Judd Hirsch plays patriarch Nathaniel Shellner, an esteemed psychological researcher who, while doing PTSD-related work in war zones decades ago, adopted three of the orphans who crossed his path. Now they and his one biological son have come back home to observe Dad's birthday -- an occasion overshadowed by the cancer that will soon kill him.
Son Tommy (Ryan O'Nan), a horror novelist, is taking the impending loss the hardest: In what Dr. Shellner judges to be dissociative amnesia, he appears to have blocked his father's condition out and replaced it with a paranoid fantasy involving mind control and grisly experimentation. He misbehaves terribly, tearing up the house in pursuit of evidence for his claims. While most of the family attempts to be patient, Nathaniel's biological son Leonard (Joseph Lyle Taylor), who has followed in the family profession, tries to shut him up with drugs and insists he should be hospitalized.
Both Lenny's haste to shut Tommy up (overdone a bit by Taylor) and the appearance of some unexplained items around the house suggest that the disturbed young man isn't completely wrong. But Wechsler takes his time letting viewers wonder just what kind of film they're seeing -- lacing the picture with flickering lights, moody flashbacks, and other cues suggesting buried familial secrets or even a supernatural theme.
Hirsch does well with what initially seems to be the picture's strongest element: the need of a dying man to use a lifetime's worth of expertise to help his son through a crisis. Wechsler's script complicates this, giving the character some secrets that (though they may or may not shed light on Tommy's plight) certainly change the nature of this family gathering. Though the overall tone gets fairly overwrought, and its explanations invite skepticism, the film does eventually make the most of its theme of paternal responsibility.
Production Company: Rowish Films
Cast: Judd Hirsch, Ryan O'Nan, C.S. Lee, Caroline Lagerfelt, Jaime Ray Newman, Joseph Lyle Taylor, Dennis Flanagan
Director-Screenwriter: Michael Z. Wechsler
Producers: Michael Z. Wechsler, Shawn Singh
Executive producers: Jonathan Sanger, Rick Porras, Khush Singh, Wendy Herst, Christian Feriozzi
Director of photography: Adrian Correia
Production designer: David Barnes
Music: Edmund Choi
Costume designer: Gina M. Scarnati
Editor: Tom Swartwout
No rating, 92 minutes