Actor Mark O’Brien, who you may recognize from his film roles in Ready or Not, End of Days, Inc. and Hammer, or his recurring role on TV’s Republic of Doyle, makes his feature-length debut as a writer and director with The Righteous. And coming from a performance background, it’s understandable that The Righteous is an “actor’s movie” in the sense that it relies heavily on its performances and character work.
One of the best movies last year was an “actor’s movie” with Fran Kranz’s equally audacious debut, Mass. One could draw other comparisons between the two movies, but one of the main differences between the movies is that Kranz kept behind the camera and O’Brien casts himself as a co-lead. Although The Righteous has specific strengths, its hangups stem from O’Brien’s presence. He commits to his role as an enigmatic wanderer who plays a larger role in the lives of a former priest (Henry Czerny) and his wife (Mimi Kuzyk) as they grieve the loss of their adopted child. Most of The Righteous consists of isolated exchanges between these three actors. Loyal to the material and their characters, the three central actors dedicate themselves to The Righteous. But, that doesn’t mean the movie itself is impervious.
By spending so much personal time with his character, I don’t think O’Brien realized just how his movie seemed so desperately bleak. The subject matter is certainly heavy but, from the black-and-white cinematography to the aching monologues, The Righteous truly exerts itself to a strained degree to be as somber and on the nose as possible. The tone and the writing isn’t without merit, and I did find myself compelled by a serious discussion between the priest and the stranger about how being in debt to the devil is “easier” than to blight God. A scene like that could be a game-changer for someone who has previously dismissed faith-based films, because I do think The Righteous is one of the better examples of the genre. However, I don’t think The Righteous has much regard to how it presents itself otherwise.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie