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New Release Review (VOD) - PRODIGALS

prodigals movie review
Lying about his legal qualifications, a failed lawyer returns to his hometown to defend a young man accused of murder.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Michelle Ouellet

Starring: David Alpay, Sara Canning, Kaniehtiio Horn, Andrew Francis, David Kaye, Brian Markinson

prodigals movie poster

Left handed piano chords mournfully soundtrack a bleak, but still beautiful, series of ice laden landscapes and grim pockets of urban living while a handsome dark-haired fella gazes meaningfully beyond the window of the Greyhound bus which is transporting him through this pale vista of photogenia and pathetic fallacy. Oui, in Michelle Ouellet’s Prodigals we’re snowed in deep within the worthy milieu of Canadian indie drama, as we follow Wesley (David Alpay) and his bittersweet return home to the sleepy northern town that he grew up in.

prodigals movie

Our boy left under a bit of a cloud, full of boasts and braggadocio about how he was going to make it, leaving behind his pals and his childhood sweetheart in the excitement. Since leaving Nowheresville CA, Wesley has become a "big shot lawyer" in the "big city"; the size-specific adjectives used by his former peer group a tacit acknowledgement of their own limitations, lives which are supposedly small and circumscribed (a point visually emphasised by the film’s costumes, with the lumber-jack shirts and woollen beanies which everyone wears externalising their pent up and insulated lives). He returns now to help out the younger brother of a pal who stands accused of premeditated murder (he literally punched a guy to death, on accident, but with the evidence captured on a mobile phone - doh!), and perhaps get another chance to put one on his ex-flame Jen (Sara Canning). Maybe fat cat Wesley needs a slice of home-cooked humble pie to remind him of the genuine flavour of home?

prodigals movie

It’s a curious, and conservative, genre the old coming-home drama. It’s one that I’ve always found ideologically repulsive, as the subtext usually seems to suggest that people, especially from a working-class background, should stay in their corner and never dare to spread their wings: a lazy, illusionary moral. Interestingly however, Prodigals, with writers Nicholas Carella and Sean Minogue working from a stage play scribed by the former, takes nothing for granted. The people that Wesley left behind, whose antagonism for his supposed success makes up most of the film’s thematic drive, really are behind. They’ve shacked up with each other, still live with their moms, and do the sort of things that rednecks always do in films, like hang out in dive bars and sit in truck trailers drinking from cans of beer of an evening. You can tell that they are blue collar because they constantly have fags in their mouths and play pool. It’s no wonder Wesley fucked off; I could barely manage an hour in the company of these man-children (at one point, for banter, they put the hand of one of their sleeping number in a bowl of cold water: first of all, that doesn’t work, and second, what, you want your mate to wet himself and your mum’s settee to stink of piss forevermore?). Still though, these losers seem to hold the moral high ground: "five fucking years and no fucking visit," is the sort of thing that they accuse Wesley of, as if their small town is a prison which allows them no way out to visit Ontario off their own backs.

prodigals movie

But here’s the thing: Welsey himself is no better. He is, in fact, living a lie. He isn’t a lawyer. Didn’t make it. Hasn’t stopped him from taking on the trial though, and effectively impersonating the bar as a way of saving face and impressing Jen. Also, it transpires that the lad who did the killing isn’t quite as innocent as characters like him usually are in films like this, either…

Prodigals' script bares the hallmarks of its theatrical roots, with a literate and polysemic exploration of social dynamics. Ouellet’s direction is masterful, affecting a confidently relaxed pace that gradually reveals character and deepens the narrative, opening up the play to thoughtful cinematography. Immensely watchable, and with a few surprises up it’s checked sleeve, Prodigals is an absorbing drama which explores stunted hopes and the folly of ego. Even its early clich├ęs eventually become reassuring, feeling a bit like coming home.

Prodigals is on VOD July 10th.



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