Genre: Drama
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell
Runtime: 1 hr 51 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 22 June 2023

Synopsis: Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens. He is as much devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate, as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). However, chaos enters Narvel's spartan existence when Mrs Haverhill demands that he take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as a new apprentice, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.

Movie Review:

American filmmaker Paul Schrader’s works often feature troubled men going through an existential crisis. The protagonist in First Reformed (2017) is a Protestant minister (Ethan Hawke) struggling with his faith while serving as the pastor in a church. In The Card Counter (2021), Oscar Isaac plays a gambler who tries to reform a young man seeking revenge on a mutual enemy from their past. And Schrader’s latest work, which is supposedly the third movie in a loose trilogy described by the Oscar nominated director, stars Joel Edgerton as a former White supremacist working in a beautiful garden, and as expected – is haunted by some dark secrets.

If you ask us, the first thing that came to our mind are the ‘Daddy’ status of these actors. The sexy older man persona, coupled with the characters’ moodiness and the troubled past, may be a draw for certain demographics. That said, we can totally see Pedro Pascal in a Paul Schrader movie.

If you have watched Schrader’s past films, you’d know they are driven by dialogues between characters (that, and long moments of contemplation which you wish you can have the luxury of doing in real life). The pacing is unrushed and the plot takes its time to develop slowly. Impatient viewers may feel the dreariness, especially when the story usually moves towards a predictable direction. But it is really about appreciating the stylistic yet unfancy framing, and taking in all the broodiness from the protagonist.

In this film written and directed by Schrader, Edgerton displays his talent for taking care of plants as a horticulturist in a luscious garden owned by an older woman (Sigourney Weaver, breezing through the role with grace). He also happens to be having a fair with her, which isn’t unexpected. The former White supremacist isn’t all bad after all, as we find out that he refused to kill a black preacher’s wife and daughter. Besides gardening, the man now involves himself in spiritual activities to cleanse his soul. We also learn that underneath his clothes, his body is covered in White supremacist tattoos – yup, you can expect scenes of a shirtless Edgerton looking remorseful.

When the woman’s grandniece (Quintessa Swindell, in a role that Schrader originally had for Zendeya in mind) shows up, things take a dramatic turn. The gardener and the young girl’s lives become closely intertwined, and they eventually open up to each other. For a movie about a horticulturist, the garden definitely plays an important role, and it is there the film will have its conclusion.

Needless to say, the cast delivers impressive performances and the movie is perfect if you are in the mood to slowly unpack the story development. Nothing too surprising shows up during the 111 minute runtime, and you are likely to be engrossed in the intensity of the characters’ expressions. Amidst the beauty you see in the garden, you can also feel the strained personalities of the characters, and that is masterfully translated on screen by Schrader and his team. It’s a great movie to sit through while slowly sipping a cup of hot black coffee - without sugar.

Movie Rating:

(A film that takes its time to tell a story of redemption, featuring an engagingly brooding performance by its leading man Joel Edgerton)

Review by John Li

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