The summer blockbuster season is wrapping up. And before we know it, Award season will be around the corner. But despite having another couple months before film journalism focuses on movies vying for Academy Award nominations, there are many films that have the feeling of what Oscar voters would find appealing.
The movie follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a man with Down Syndrome who’s forced to stay in a retirement home by the state. One night, he breaks out and pursues a wrestling school run by his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). As he reaches the nearby docks, he stows away on a fishing boat belonging to Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), a troubled fisherman who gets himself in hot water with rival fishermen Duncan and Rat Boy (played by John Fawkes and rapper Yelawolf respectively). While the dynamic on the road starts off cold, Zak and Tyler start to grow close together as they evade not only the pursuant fishermen, but also Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a caretaker at the retirement home sent to find Zak.
Like Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, Shia LeBeouf shines when not working with a problematic franchise. His interactions with the Zack Gottsagen is a heartwarming dynamic that feels and progresses genuinely. Through a montage that shows the two grow close, both actors excel in showing this fraternal bond. And Shia isn’t the only actor whose work shines when not given terrible direction. Dakota Johnson shows her tenderness and reluctance to unlearn the attentive raising she’s forced to do as a caretaker. But Gottsagen shines in the lead role and makes the movie work. While his goals are simple, he embarks on an odyssey to achieve them. And his character’s strength and comprehension of the world makes him human and relatable.
The story has the same feeling as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Two men forced on the run and grow from mutual strangers to more familial. Found family’s play a pivotal role in the movie, as one of the minor characters tell Zak that, “friends are the family you choose.” By the end of the movie, the audience gets the feeling that these people have known each other for years. Each of the arcs flow well with each other over the course of the movie. Zak learns that he can be the hero in his story, Tyler accepts that he’s a good person through his relationship with Zak, and Eleanor learns to respect Zak’s independence.
Most of the shots capture appropriate scenic moods, from the tense to the emotional and even to the comedic. Montages play a pivotal role in allowing character dynamics to grow and show the similarity between the two fugitives and how each of the characters grow closer together. But no scene is more poignant than when Zak and Tyler are seen floating down the river. There’s a moment where the two of them bond and relish in the quiet moment flowing down the current. Shots are paralleled between the travelling duo and Tyler’s dead brother (shown in flashbacks by Jon Bernthal).
Of all the movies that came out this past summer, this one had limited attention; and that is a shame, because this has got to be one of the best movies of the year. The story, cast, and cinematography work like a tripod to keep the project standing strong. And as we move towards Oscar season, it wouldn’t hurt to give this one a watch.