Written and Directed by: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Zack Gottsagen, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Hayden Church
To be human is to aspire, to be better than oneself; to learn and to grow. Life throws curveballs at us, some of which we have no control over; some of which are defined by our own choices. It’s the mark we leave on the world that differentiates us from one another and I can think of no better example of this than Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” which expands this weekend.
To put “The Peanut Butter Falcon” into context is to understand the characters. Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf is perhaps the strongest performance I’ve seen this year because we see the human side of the actor within the character. Tyler is a drifter, aimless and shapeless. He’s in to shenanigans as he tries to hang on to a job as a deck hand, attracting the ire of Duncan (John Hawkes).
Zak would like nothing more than to meet his idol, The Salt Water Redneck, a pro wrestler. There’s just one challenge: Zak, who has Down syndrome is a ward of a retirement home in North Carolina. He’s under the terrific care of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) and he has a cunning roommate by the name of Carl (Bruce Dern). The story eventually sees Zak escaping from the confines of his world to follow his passion, leading him to Tyler. Together, they seek out The Salt Water Redneck.
Nilson and Schwartz built the story exclusively around Zack Gottsagen, who aspired to be an actor. They accomplished this by creating a character that mirrors Zack in real life, thus aspiring to be a pro wrestler.
The use of Zach’s, and Zak’s, story as a framing device pivots the focus on the characters. Gottsagen was a breath of fresh air as he finds a way to make his dreams, his reality come true. Within that, there’s an honest earnestness in his actions as he reminds Tyler what it means to be human; to let go of our past transgressions, to be able to move forward.
Tyler’s story and the character’s background is layered in pieces throughout the journey using flashbacks featuring Jon Bernthal as Mark. These flashbacks and Tyler’s actions at the beginning of the film are the impetus for Duncan (Hawkes), a rival fisherman who gives chase. These elements and their arcs work because they define the richer drama and the comedy, but they also hinder some of the film’s flow.
On the other side of the camera, the technical craft is first rate, but there are two areas that I want to call out: the first is the amazing cinematography from Nigel Bluck, who captured the lowlands of the North Carolina coastline, adding a context to the film that moves beyond the characters. The second is the use of music which amps up the emotional impact.
Films like “The Peanut Butter Falcon” offer a new outlook on life and remind us to cherish the time we have.
3.75 out of 4