Chapman: Film Review

Chapman Film Still - H 2014

Chapman Film Still - H 2014

Atmospheric visuals and strong performances aren't enough to compensate for this would-be poetic drama's thin plotline.

Justin Owensby's debut feature concerns a young man struggling with the trauma of a long-ago childhood incident.

As visually polished as it is dramatically thin, Chapman is an elliptical character study of a young man haunted by a long-ago traumatic incident. Featuring an impressively charismatic performance by Jesse Johnson (John Wilkes Booth in the recent TV movie Killing Lincoln) and gorgeous lensing by cinematographer Sean Stiegemeier -- the latter aided in no small part by the scenic Colorado Rockies locations -- this debut feature serves as an effective calling card for writer-director Justin Owensby.

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Johnson (bearing a strong resemblance to his actor father, Don) plays the central role of Alex, a locksmith struggling with relationship and addiction issues. The arrival of a fateful letter prompts him to return to his childhood Colorado home, and we eventually learn that he has had a falling out with his childhood friend Paul (Christopher Masterson).

Cutting back and forth in time, the film details the love triangle between the younger versions of the two men (played by Jordan Potter and Alex Saxon) and Marie (Caitlin Thompson), the beautiful, free-spirited young woman with whom they’re both enraptured.

Enlivened by periodic doses of crude humor in its depiction of the grown-up Alex’s endless misadventures, the film straining for poeticism ultimately hinges on a late reveal involving the reason for the male characters’ ruptured relationship. Unfortunately, it comes as too little too late, and the characterizations aren’t compelling enough to compensate for the thin narrative.

Still, the filmmaker succeeds in evoking an impressively dreamlike atmosphere on an obviously threadbare budget and has also elicited sensitive performers by the youthful cast, with Thompson particularly luminous as the object of the young men’s affection.  

Opens May 9 (Chapman Films)

Cast: Jesse Johnson, Chris Masterson, Caitlin Thompson, Christine Woods, Jordan Potter, Alex Saxon

Director/screenwriter: Justin Owensby

Producer: Douglas Weiser

Director of photography: Sean Stiegemeier

Editor: Zachary Hargrave

Costume designer: Michael Wanenmacher

Composer: Chad Seiter

Not rated, 84 minutes