Running Time: 100 minutes
Written by: Jonathan Tropper
Directed by: Mark Raso
Featuring: Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen, Bruce Greenwood, Wendy Crewson, and Dennis Haysbert
Ben: “We’re all so frightened by time, the way it moves on and the way things disappear. That’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists by nature. We take pictures to stop time, to commit moments to eternity. Human nature made tangible.”
Is there any more genre of movie more revisited than the road movie? It is not only a genre unto itself but is also a sub-genre of every other master genre in existence. The very idea of a road movie is to prove the adage that it is the trip that is the aim of any journey not the final ending place – something that anyone who has ever been on a trip can agree with. So now we have the new film “Kodachrome ” (2017) arriving in cinemas today, which really does set out to prove that point as well as taking a rather myopic journey through a standard father and son relationship that begins rocky but of course as you would expect ends with some measure of understanding and closure. To say that within a few minutes of the film beginning that any canny audience will be able to work out the broader details of this movie is an understatement. I am not discounting the value in familial relationships as well as the damage that can be caused by unthinking parents as well as resentful children but does every second drama that is produced have to be about this as well as the healing process that families can go through. As with many of these types of movies, of which there are plenty, there is a mixture of drama and comedy as well as a scenic trip through parts of the US that are made to be filmed as well as endless montage sequences that fill out the running time. As with many movies that follow a broad outline of other movies if you are going to produce one then there had better be something unique to identify it as well as sperate it from the crowd. The question is does “Kodachrome” succeed or fail on this point, or is it just another father and son story with good intentions?
“Kodachrome” is based on a magazine article (am increasing trend over the past decade or so) which has been adapted by Jonathan Tropperwho has had some success on television as well as theatrically but I would say that his understanding of real relationships fall into a fantasy category which I believe his work speaks to, he does not write about how relationships are but how they are on television and in movies. The director of this movie is relative newcomer Mark Raso who seems to have been able to bring the skill required to take what is in the screenplay and make it visual along with his actors who seem to be inhabiting their roles the best they can.
The movie revolves around a wayward, world-famous photographer dad, Ben (Ed Harris), and his distant music-exec adult child, Matt (Jason Sudeikis), who is on the verge of being fired from his label. That his father is in the last stages of liver cancer and has only months to live make the mission they embark upon all the more fraught. At issue are four mystery canisters of Kodachrome film that Ben, as analogue as they come, has just discovered and he wants to get them developed in order to put on one final exhibit of his work. But the only photo lab that still processes Kodachrome is located in Parsons, Kansas—and it is just days away from closing up shop.
There are three main cast members that make up the film, which is headed up by the great Ed Harris who seems to be fitting into ‘old man’ parts as he gets older, which is a shame as he is a person that really grew into acting as his career went from strength to strength. The kind of role he is playing here is one that will be familiar to anyone that has ever been to the movies, that is the estranged father who is now dying of cancer, needing to reach one last milestone or make one last attempt at something he failed to do during his life. The cast is rounded out by Jason Sudeikis and Elizabeth Olsen as the son and Ben’s nurse, all three have excellent chemistry as well as extensive experience so this film for them is not testing at all, there is little challenge in these roles, they are archetypical roles that are expected in a movie within this familial genre. Along the way the three encounter various characters either related or not, portrayed by some great character actors Bruce Greenwood, Wendy Crewsonand Dennis Haysbert. To be honest I enjoyed these minor characters more than the main characters, maybe because I was a little distracted and bored by the narrative as well as the plot.
There is no getting away from the title of the movie, “Kodachrome”, which refers to the undeveloped film that the characters are on the way to develop. It is a wise decision to frame the family drama around the trip to develop the film, (no pun intended) as it is of course a meta narrative – a film about film made on film. Unfortunately this is where the inventiveness ends, as, like the story itself the metaphors and references are very heavy handed as well as preachy to the point of missing its own narrative arc. We are asked to go on a physical as well as a metaphorical trip with the main cast that also asks us to dip into melancholy as well as nostalgia. Focusing on the nostalgia angle for a moment we are asked to associate the loss of physical film with the loss that the father and son will be going through as well as what they have lost over the intervening years which is a cheap manipulation of the audience, something that should be earned within the narrative not associated with some other action or thing. As I said it is cheap manipulation, something the director should have addressed as to bear in mind the subtly required of this movie. Of course the flaw with linking emotion to what is, a redundant technology is assuming that people know about the movement away from film, that they actually even care about that move at all. Like this film the knowledge of that move does not really matter because the fact that this movie was even filmed on physical film will be missed by the audience, they will not even know about it, except for the title at the end that informs us it was indeed on the old medium, but really does it matter and who cares?
There is some drama as well as some humour within this film, but like many recent bigger movies that have failed this year, I am looking at you “Solo” (2018), as soon as the credits roll you might have trouble remembering what this movie was about as well as what was the overriding themes, and where did I park the car? This may have been a more succefful movie in terms of quality if one story were picked and that was delved into to give the movie an anchor, some meaning and finally some real entertainment. There is a very real importance to the move to digital from film, this may have been a great way to inform people about this, instead of mixing it up and using it as a truly mixed (and redundant ) metaphor.