People with physical disabilities face a more challenging life than those of us who can see, hear, and move. Yet there are also many other disabilities in the realms of addiction, temperament and belief. In director Christopher Cantwell’s realization of Darren Lemke’s imaginative script, the worlds of both sorts of characters come together in a way that makes for fascinating cinema, yet suffers from too many plot conveniences to lift this production onto the pedestal of greatness.
10-year-old Wesley (Danny Murphy—deaf and born to deaf parents—is radiant and stoic as required in every scene), attends a special-needs school, but even there he is mercilessly bullied—proving just how universal human nature is.
Returning home from a typical day in his small town North Dakota school (and kudos to the imaginative cinematography from Evans Brown where the long-shot, snow-covered field pans, move spectacularly full circle during the opening sequence), Wesley comes upon a prostate man, obviously in distress. Aaron Paul gives a knockout performance—at times literally—playing a bank robber on the lam whose very existence is in the tender hands of a deaf ally. His “disability” centres around meting out brutal revenge whenever slighted, thus setting his own table for a just dessert.
On the family front, Wesley is blessed with a loving, understanding mother (Mary Winstead is appropriately grounded and compassionate), easy-to-love sister (Charlee Park) and somewhat cruel, bullying dad (Scott McNairy plays the wayward father in a manner that makes his comeuppance a pleasure instead of an outrage).
The unlikely pair—fugitive in life/fugitive from life—forge a sympathetic bond that provides much of the film’s finest moments (a marvellous chess lesson, bully response 101, body building primer), but the narrative slips off the path of credibility on several occasions.
First the good news: the here-again/gone-again body of the wounded criminal, readily sets the stage for Dad’s further anger with his “He isn’t deaf son”—their conflict builds. Having Dad refer to Wesley as “Tiger” and then the hidden thief recanting a tiger story falls false and flat. With so much snow on the ground, does no one notice the litany of footprints into and out of the used barn (the crook’s refuge); is the barn abandoned from all use in the winter? When the cops do come a-lookin’, why do they only probe the windows with their flashlights instead of doing a proper search? The sudden appearance of Mr. Chambers with probing questions for Wesley, has no back-story (why would suspicion arise around the ever-so-quiet young man?), but has obviously been inserted to provide the allegory for a cat lover befriending a mountain lion cub only to become its dinner…
Those quibbles aside, this production is well worth a viewing if only to better understand what life can be like without what most of us take for granted. JWR