Kodachrome is an absorbing father-son road movie with a predictable, too-neat narrative saved by excellent dialogue and performances.
Like the analogue film development process from which it derives its title, Kodachrome is an anachronism. Apart from being shot on 35mm film, it’s one of those old-fashioned style movies that presents as realism but in its fictional confections and conventionally shaped too-neat narrative undercuts any sense that ‘real life’ is being mirrored.
Take, for example, the conceit – a road trip – that brings together the characters whose relationship is the film’s primary focus: estranged New York-based father and son, terminally ill photographer Ben (Ed Harris) and music industry careerist Matt (Jason Sudeikis). Ben has four undeveloped rolls of Kodachrome film shot early in his acclaimed career and he and his private nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) have only a few days to get to the last remaining Kodachrome processing centre, in Kansas, before it closes down. It’s understandable that Ben won’t entrust his precious film to a courier service, but given the state of his health, why not fly rather than drive? The road trip doesn’t make sense – except dramatically, as a device to expose father and son to each other for a few days.
The road trip is but one of several such contrivances in a story that unfolds in often predictable fashion. Where the film really does ring true, though, is in the characters, which are well developed and psychologically plausible.
Working off the generally excellent dialogue, the performers thrive, particularly Ed Harris, who traverses some uncomfortable territory in his portrayal of the selfish, narcissistic and sometimes perversely cruel Ben, the embodiment of the self-absorbed, egotistical artist who assumes his talent places him above other mortals, licensing him to behave how he likes regardless of the collateral damage he wreaks. He reaches peak arsehole with a nasty and needless dinner table revelation about his brother Dean’s (Bruce Greenwood) wife Sarah (Wendy Crewson), whom they visit en route.
The long, difficult and seemingly unlikely road back to any meaningful re-connection between father and son is skilfully and for the most part convincingly negotiated, with a side-serve of developing romance between Zooey and Matt (surprise, surprise) providing some relief from all the angst – that is, until they hit some roadblocks of their own.
As good as the characterisation, dialogue and performances are, and as high the emotional stakes as Ben’s illness advances and his relationship with Matt reaches a point of resolution, the film does not deliver the sort of emotional kick you anticipate. That’s partly down to Ben’s sheer unlikeability. It’s hard to care about his death, or to accept that he will be much missed, even by his family.
The film ends with a contrived yet powerful final scene in which the entirely unsurprising contents of Ben’s now developed film are revealed, concluding with an indelible and brilliantly conceived image of unity in which the present is shown to be coloured by the past. The conclusion is not only a narrative resolution, but might be seen as summing up the film itself – obviously fictional in its conceits and narrative tidiness, but well executed and absorbing, and even wise in moments.
Movie Website: https://www.facebook.com/Kodachrome-151157215583327/
Kodachrome features: Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen, Bruce Greenwood, Wendy Crewson
Director: Mark Raso
Writers: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay), based on an article by A.G. Sulzberger
Runtime: 105 min
Australian release date: Kodachrome at Luna Cinema, Leederville from June 7, 2018
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