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Heeding the age-old advice to write what you know, Miles Doleac, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, explores the world of academia in his feature directorial/screenwriting debut. While the tyro filmmaker has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew with the overly soapy The Historian, the film does offer some intriguing insights into its cinematically under-explored milieu as well as providing the opportunity for fine performances from several screen veterans.
Doleac also plays the lead role of Ben Rhodes, a classics professor who becomes embroiled in personal and professional travails when he takes a job at a new university after a painful separation from his wife. He almost immediately runs afoul of his department head, Valerian Hadley (William Sadler), whose once-prominent career has faded and who is consumed with the task of caring for his elderly, Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (John Cullum).
Complicating their relationship is Hadley’s enthusiastic young graduate student Anna (Jillian Taylor), who lives in the same student-filled apartment complex as Ben. When Ben impulsively makes the mistake of sleeping with her, Hadley’s jealousy rises to the surface and he retaliates by making Ben’s life miserable, sharply criticizing Anna’s attempts at completing her thesis and secretly tipping off the school’s dean (Glynnis O’Connor) about the relationship.
The apparently irresistible Ben also attracts the attention of sexy fellow professor Stacey (Leticia Jimenez), who throws herself at him and initiates a seemingly no-strings affair that quickly proves emotionally fraught.
The film is less interesting for its melodramatic plotline than its incisive portrait of a higher education system marked by internal politics and financial pressures. Unfortunately, the filmmaker doesn’t delve deeply enough into the issues he raises, but some compensation is provided in the form of the moving subplot about the emotional difficulties of being a caregiver. Relishing one of his meatiest roles in years, the veteran Sadler delivers a complex performance that subtly exposes the underlying vulnerability of the tough-as-nails Hadley.
Doleac doesn’t quite possess the acting chops to make his character equally compelling, but he certainly deserves points for attracting such stellar performers as Sadler, Cullum and O’Connor to the project. And considering the obviously low budget, the film’s tech credits are solidly assured.
Production: Historia Films
Cast: William Sadler, Miles Doleac, Colin Cunningham, Jillian Taylor, John Cullum, Glynis O’Connor, Lticia Jimenez
Director/screenwriter: Miles Doleac
Producers: Miles Doleac, Mackenzie Westmoreland, Ryan H. Jackson
Executive producers: John Lawrence Doleac, Nate Meyer
Director of photography: Ben S. Powell
Editor/composer: D.J. Sing
Production designer: Eddie Beasley
No rating, 124 min.
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