'Home': Film Review | Rome 2020

BAC Films/Rome Film Festival
A small situational drama makes contact through the acting.

Jake McLaughlin is a young con fresh out of prison and Kathy Bates his ailing mother in German actress Franka Potente's directing bow.

Can a repentant law-breaker find forgiveness in the blind prejudice of provincial America? Although the slow-starting drama Home never really catches fire, it patiently draws the viewer into the story of a young ex-con struggling for normalcy and acceptance, thanks to emotionally convincing turns by leads Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates and Derek Richardson.

The film’s focus on acting shouldn’t come as a great surprise, given that the writer and director is leading German actress Franka Potente, who sprang to success with Run Lola Run followed by Hollywood roles in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy. Her first directing stint is a low-key effort that shows empathy and promise. It bowed at the Rome Film Festival.

The story begins with the surreal image of Marvin Hacks (McLaughlin) skateboarding down long, lonesome highways on his way home from jail. His first interaction is with a local waitress who evidently likes his out-of-town look — a top thatch of shocking red hair and a body full of angry tattoos. But the closer he gets to home, the more people’s defenses shoot up at the very sight of him.

Gradually his backstory emerges: He’s just been released from 17 years in prison for kicking an old lady to death on the street. It’s a heavy burden to bear, and Marvin shows courage in even attempting to pick up the pieces of his life in a community that now shuns him. There’s a whiff of the classic Western in this story of a loner riding into a hostile town and facing justice. But the moral dimension is missing from Potente's screenplay, particularly since Marvin’s motive in killing the woman is never spelled out.

McLaughlin is a long way from the FBI recruit he played in ABC’s Quantico, but his raw energy and determination galvanize a rather predictable story and get the audience on his side from scene one. Murder notwithstanding, he seems like a gentleman compared to the other townies. He stares down the dislike, anger and fear in their eyes, and even submits to beating and humiliation at the hands of the Flintow cousins, the rough-hewn, Stone Age grandsons of the murder victim. Only later does he realize the pretty Delta (Aisling Franciosi) he’s been cautiously courting is a Flintow, too.

Winning back his place in this backward community seems like a losing proposition, and naturally one wonders why he doesn’t start over in a new location. What really ties him down is his mom Bernadette (Bates), who can barely get around and who the doctor thinks may not have long to live. Their reconciliation takes the entire film to achieve, but it's convincing. With long gray hair and a permanently sardonic expression, Bates takes Bernadette to another level far above stereotypes, making the mother-son drama something to care about.

Also very fine is Derek Richardson in the wrenching role of Marvin’s stoner buddy, Wade. He was present at the killing of the old woman and in a moving scene berates himself for not stopping Marvin from doing her in. He’s gone so far down the rabbit role (a hospital janitor supplies him with stolen drugs) that Marvin seems shocked at the sight of him. Surviving on pizza in his ratty camper, stuttering but loquacious, Wade is a memorable drop-out from society. The tenderness of the friendship between these outsiders is expertly portrayed by the two actors.

Comic relief is supposed to come from two jovial locals on Marvin’s side, Father Browning (Stephen Root) and Bernadette’s nursing help Jayden (Lil Rel Howery), but both feel forced into roles that feel more politically correct than authentic given the kind of conservative blue-collar town this is meant to be.

Venue: Rome Film Festival
Production companies: Augenschein Filmproduktion in association with BAC Films, Lemming Film, Fireglory Pictures
Cast: Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates, Aisling Franciosi, Derek Richardson, James Jordan, Lil Rel Howery, Stephen Root
Director, screenwriter: Franka Potente
Producers: Jonas Katzenstein, Maximillian Leo, David Grumbach, Leontine Petit, Erik Glijnis, Christine Günther, Chevy Chen
Director of photography: Frank Griebe
Production designer: Cora Pratz
Editor: Antje Zynga
Casting directors: Nancy Foy, Cathy Sandrich Gelford
World sales: BAC Films
100 minutes