Movie Review – Retake (2017)
It’s obvious that the protagonist here does not live in the now. He uses a Polaroid camera. It’s reminiscent of another movie where the protagonist uses a Polaroid. Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2001) presented a man who had lost a loved one and then sets himself on a journey that in the end is all about him trying to recreate a memory or an experience. Writer-director Nick Corporon in his feature debut presents us with a similar man who has lost a loved one and is on a journey to recreate an experience or feeling that he had.
Yet, Memento wasn’t the only Nolan film that came to mind while watching this movie. There’s also a loose comparison to be made to Inception (2010), Nolan’s film again about a man who lost a loved one who is not simply trying to recreate memories but manipulate them. Obviously, that 2010 film utilized science-fiction for its premise. Corporon’s movie doesn’t have any sci-fi elements at all.
However, my interpretation of Inception is that it is a metaphor for the filmmaking process. David O. Russell’s American Hustle (2013) is also in my estimation a metaphor for the filmmaking process. The metaphor is more obvious here in Corporon’s movie because he literally has a character who wields a camera that literally captures images onto film. It’s not digital. It’s all analog, but, that character, like Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and Christian Bale in American Hustle, has a vision that he wants to recreate and then proceeds to dress up other people to carry it out. DiCaprio’s character basically dressed up Ellen Page in Inception and Bale’s character dressed up Amy Adams.
Tuc Watkins (One Life to Live and Desperate Housewives) stars as Jonathan, a businessman who doesn’t really reveal too much personal information, but he picks up a guy on the street, ostensibly to have sex. It becomes clear immediately that he doesn’t just want sex. He’s like a director trying to cast a role in his production.
Devon Graye (Dexter and The Flash) co-stars as Adam, the guy on the street who gets picked up eventually. He’s the veritable actor who’s cast for the role. For him, it’s like doing live theater. He’s given notes or suggestions and he plays the character. That character is Brandon, a boyfriend to Jonathan with a 3-year history who is madly in love. The question is if the role becomes too real for Adam after some time.
Essentially, if one boils it down, this movie is about a man who hires a prostitute. Plenty of films have employed that as a hook. One of the most famous is Pretty Woman (1990). After one night, the man in that movie asks the prostitute to stay for a week as a business arrangement. As the week goes on, that business arrangement morphs more into a personal arrangement.
That’s the seeming trajectory here. Jonathan asks Adam who he only calls Brandon to stay for a week but instead of a Beverly Hills hotel, Jonathan hits the road in his Dodge Charger with a destination of the Grand Canyon. The major issue at work in Pretty Woman is classism and the clash between the wealthy and working class.
Here, the major issue is grief and loss, and how one handles it, which is a very universal theme that makes this movie more comparable to Nolan’s films or even to the more buzzworthy films of the past year like Manchester By the Sea or Jackie. Corporon doesn’t fall into the trap as Dito Montiel’s Boulevard (2015), which is about a man and his male prostitute where the main theme was about being gay, a good but limiting theme.
This film is better because same-sex attraction is never at odds. It’s particularly noticeable when Jonathan and “Brandon” are in what seems like a country-western bar out in some rural or desert area, not in a city. Yet, the two can cuddle next each other without getting glances, having awkward or hostile encounters. The romance is never encumbered by anything external. It’s all internal struggles and not any kind of homophobia.
Watkins isn’t exactly Richard Gere in Pretty Woman. He’s not supposed to be some officer-and-gentleman who sweeps you off your feet. He’s a broken man. He’s more like Robin Williams in Boulevard. Yet, he never comes across as creepy or desperate. He’s much more controlled and controlling. There is a moment or two where he has a crack in his armor and has to let go and let his heart bleed a little. In those moments, Watkins is just as endearing as any Academy Award-nominated actor.
Graye is a young, up-and-coming actor who has been working for ten years now. He started as just a teenager in the hit series Dexter in 2006, but a lot of that youthful excitement and exuberance of a new actor who is in his prime and is on the ball is the kind of energy he brings here. He contrasts brilliantly opposite Watkins who is playing a man who missed his happy times or couldn’t fully appreciate them in the moment, as Graye’s character isn’t missing anything and is fully appreciating it all, which easily makes him an early candidate for sexiest thing on screen for 2017.
Not Rated but contains language, nudity and intense sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.
Limited theatrical release in Los Angeles on January 6.
Available on VOD / DVD via Breaking Glass Pictures on January 10.