DRAMA; 1hr 47min
STARRING: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell
Triple effect: from left, Swindell, Weaver and Edgerton
Horticulturalist Narvel Roth (Edgerton), chief custodian and guiding light of the grand luxuriance that is Gracewood Gardens, likes to think that “gardening is a belief in the future.” The science behind the artful creation and maintenance of Gracewood would seem to support his conviction. But this is a lesson in ethics from First Reformed writer-director Paul Schrader, in which dedication is a matter of degree. And as a visual reveal makes plain early on, Narvel Roth is by no means the buttoned-down aesthete he takes pains to present himself as. Nor, for that matter, is his gracious employer, Norma Haverhill (Weaver), entirely what she seems, her aristocratic ease a gloss on the creeping rot of ownership.
If Schrader has a point to make about the perils of deceptive facades, he is just as ready to concede that even the most contained masquerade can be rocked to its core by a foxy young catalyst. Maya (Swindell) is Norma’s plain-speaking grand-niece, newly apprenticed to Narvel and his team by the lady of the estate. When Norma’s spitfire jealousy of Narvel and Maya’s emerging relationship inadvertently flips the switch on her prize landscaper’s ironclad control, the violence of the outcome begs the question of how much that control was worth to begin with.
Can Narvel rise above his pervasive past? Is reinvention ever possible without the toll of loss? Schrader and his intent cast walk softly through the gathering darkness of this unknowable dilemma, with Edgerton so reined-in his every breath seems considered. But their burden of truth is a thumping big stick.