Stars: Bill Oberst Jr, Robert Nolan and Matteo D’Avino
Nolan plays Gordon, who is magnificently introduced in the 75 seconds before the title card. We see that he’s a husband and father, but that things are not good in this family. Initially we think divorce, because he takes pictures of his wife and son and crops her out of them. He composes an e-mail entitled ‘My Son’ to ask for a ‘play date’. But then he starts to ask directions and we start to wonder. The ominous, pulsing, score doesn’t say divorce; it says nagging urge. Nolan looks guilty, as if he’s not only fighting something within him but he’s scared of losing that fight. And he has some sort of sore on his hand, an oozing sore full of viscous white liquid that emerges as he fingers it. Clearly this itch that he’s scratching is not just a physical one, it’s a metaphorical one and it doesn’t take much to collate these pieces together to see an awful big picture. Gordon likes little boys and he has one of his own. Perhaps he hasn’t done anything at this point, but he wants to and whatever he’s used to stop himself thus far isn’t working any more.
So off he drives with his son, Paul, who’s probably in his early teens, to meet an old college friend, Denis, at a diner, and, if we hadn’t worked out what was going on already, we can’t fail to figure it out here. The double entendres about food are unyielding and the only way Paul can miss the nauseating eagerness of his dad’s ‘college friend’ is through really not caring in the slightest about any of this and losing himself in his game while the adults chat. ‘You’re not hungry?’ Denis asks Gordon and he’s really not referring to food. ‘Ain’t nothing like the real thing,’ he digs. ‘Ain’t that right, dad?’ In this scene, Nolan, who’s usually the dominant presence, clearly plays second fiddle to Oberst; Denis is so comfortable with who and what he is that he can generate nightmares just by eating a sandwich. Gordon is stuck in the uncertain ground between his companions. Paul is completely innocent, while Denis is that word’s every antonym: not just guilty but corrupt, immoral, experienced, cunning, impure and stained. Gordon isn’t that. Yet.
What’s really different here is that Nolan isn’t the dominant force that he has been previously. It was hard to acknowledge that anyone else existed in Worm and he was all over Familiar like a rash, but here he’s the lead character without being the dominant one. It’s fantastic to see Nolan and Oberst share a screen, especially when both have such gifts of characters to portray. Oberst gets the dominant one and he does it so well that I wanted to wash my hands when the end credits rolled. Nolan gets the one with depth but at the cost of emphasis. He’s tasked with playing a character driven in a number of different directions at once and that’s really difficult to do. I think he nails it at the beginning and at the end, but perhaps allows Oberst too much dominance at points in between. The diner scene is a great example of one that he gifts to his co-star when he could have fought a little harder for it; he had to stay subservient but not quite so far as he does. It’s still another great performance though and I can’t wait for a Powell/Nolan feature.