By: Trevor Chartrand

Michelle Ouellet’s Prodigals depicts a feeling as much as a narrative.  Based on a stage play of the same name, the film is about a group of 20-somethings reflecting on their lives, and coming to terms with the emptiness staring back at them.  While it may sound bleak and unsettling, the film isn’t without a few shimmering rays of hope.

After a small-town brawl ends in murder, the killer’s sister (Kaniehtiio Horn) calls her old friend Wesley (Birdland’s David Alpay) back home to help with her family’s legal troubles.  A law school dropout, Wesley struggles to hide the real reason for his return: an attempt to rekindle his relationship with an old girlfriend (Sara Canning of I Put a Hit on You).  While posing as a lawyer, Wesley cons his way onto the defense team while rediscovering his love/hate relationship with the hometown he left behind in this austere drama.

The film unfolds as a series of ‘slice-of-life’ small-town vignettes that are essentially a love letter to the setting;  Sault Saint Marie (which could be any small town in Northern Ontario, really).  There’s a certain nostalgia in the way the town is featured in the film, and it’s clear the filmmakers are connected to the location in a close, but complicated way.  The town is shot in all its bleak glory to make the city seem dreary, but alive.

Prodigals’ pacing is both the best and worst element of the film.  On the one hand, the slow, meandering structure of the picture effectively establishes the tone and the ‘nothingness’ of the locale.  However, the film does tend to drag, and occasionally it feels unfocused.  It’s refreshing to see a film so willing to take its time, though a number of scenes aren’t integral to the story being told.

The characters in the film take a desolate walk down memory lane, clinging to every silver lining they can.  The people are depressing and real, and the film is effectively cast overall.  The performances are generally reigned in and subdued, with infrequent, but revealing, flashes of frustration and angst.  The low-key characters in Prodigals are reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, without (as much) irreverent comedy.

Prodigals is Canada’s answer to Better Call Saul, featuring a series of criminals, anti-heroes and, of course, a failed lawyer who drives the heart of the picture.  Dramatic and reflective, a highly-recommended watch for Canadians familiar with the isolation of small-town living.


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