First time full feature film directors and writers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz bring a subtle commentary on social care, to what seems to be just your typical feel good film. In doing so, they’ve crafted not just an incredibly enthralling gem of a film, but also one that lingers in your mind long after you finished watching it.
In what could’ve easily been a Mark Twain tale, a down-on-his-luck fisherman and a young man with a big dream make their way down the waterways of the American South with the help of a handful of colourful strangers. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf – Transformers) has been stealing other fishermen’s catch of the day, in order to survive, since the death of his brother. Zak (played by unforgettable newcomer Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, dreams of a life as a professional wrestler. When Zak escapes from his care facility, he bumps into Tyler, who’s being chased by a duo of angry fishermen. Our newly acquainted friends head on a journey from North Carolina down to Florida, to find the professional wrestling school of Zak’s hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church – We Bought a Zoo).
Directors duo Nilson and Schwartz took home the 2019 Audience Award for Narrative Spotlight at the SXSW Film Festival. Their inspiring and timeless American tale is nothing short of heartwarming. It doesn’t invent anything new, but in changing some very timely factors, such as putting an actor with Down syndrome front and center – who’s very confident next to acting talents such as LaBeouf – they’ve made some choices that’ll show people just what The Peanut Butter Falcon is all about: chasing dreams.
Along with Eleanor (Dakota Johnson – Suspiria), a conscientious aide from Zak’s residence who comes to retrieve him, our friends set sail for a once-in-a-lifetime journey on a makeshift raft through an unfamiliar and extraordinary landscape. It’s just this mix of characters that gifts us with different perspectives and opinions on this somewhat risky journey. Although The Peanut Butter Falcon has an indie feel to it, it’s one of the most mainstream indie films in recent memory. A film that will for sure get overlooked by many, when it drops on streaming platforms, but should benefit from word of mouth.
LaBeouf’s acting range since the Transformers-trilogy has grown exponentially into something worth admiring. The way he shows what really goes on in Tyler’s broken heart, is not only poignant, but also becomes more and more real when you see this man finally opening up to Zak, after dealing with the traumatic loss of his brother. Gottsagen’s Zak is a role specifically written for the actor and you can tell how much fun he’s having. His sympathetic innocence will bring many smiles to your face, while you cheer for him to succeed in achieving his goal. The casting is so perfect, it makes you wish they’d cross your path along their journey, just so you could join them.
While the cinematography is pretty basic, the use of colour must be addressed. Filmed in Savannah, Georgia, the scenery’s interesting colour palette wants you to think of arid areas, although everything is covered in water. A mind fuck for sure. With an original score to accompany Zak and Tyler on their journey, Zachary Dawes, Noam Pikelny, Jonathan Sadoff and Gabe Witcher composed something exceptional that fits so perfect it sounds like a natural backdrop throughout the film. Combined with some of the best country music, all supervised by Zachary Dawes (True Detective), you quickly realise this is all part of the story without ever feeling out of place.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is worthy of every spotlight. A bright, enthusiastic, sit-back-and-relax kinda film, that makes you feel connected to its characters. The heart of the film lies in its actors, scenery, music, and the passion behind the scenes in putting this project out there for everyone to experience.
Review – ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’
Reviewed online (screener provided by Rialto Distribution), Sydney, Jan. 26, 2020. Australian Classification: M. Running time: 97 min.
PRODUCTION: A Rialto Distribution release of an Armory Films, 1993, Lucky Treehouse, Nut Bucket Films, Tvacom Film and Tv production. Producers: Albert Berger, Christopher Lemole, Lije Sarki, David Thies, Ron Yerxa, Tim Zajaros. Executive producers: Carmella Casinelli, Manu Gargi, Aaron Scotti, Anthony K. Shriver, Timothy Shriver, Michelle Sie Whitten.
CREW: Directors/writers: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz. Camera: Nigel Bluck. Editors: Nat Fuller, Kevin Tent. Music: Zachary Dawes, Noam Pikelny, Jonathan Sadoff, Gabe Witcher.
WITH: Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, Shia LaBeouf, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Tim Zajaros, John Hawkes, Yelawolf, Jonathan Williams.