THIS ROBERT REDFORD FILM WAS ACCEPTED INTO SUNDANCE…
Review by Paul Preston
The new Netflix film, The Discovery, has an absolutely jackpot of a concept. Robert Redford’s character, Thomas Harbor discovers scientific proof of an afterlife. Harbor has found a way to measure subatomic wavelengths that exi the body upon death. But where do they go? What do they become? In the opening scene, Mary Steenburgen’s reporter character presses him on his theory and the fallout from it – that being four million people killing themselves, wanting to “get there”. It’s a fascinating conceit that gets explored in highs and lows in the next hour and forty minutes.
Jason Segel plays Will Harbor, Thomas’ son, coming home to implore his father to discredit his own work to stop the rash of suicides. But Thomas is digging in, working on the next level of his research – a device that can record the afterlife to more accurately grasp what’s in store after death. Thomas is working on this device at his palatial estate with a group of followers Will calls a “cult”. Weaving their way into the story are Toby (Jesse Plemons), Will’s brother who helps out around the house (where that can include fetching a corpse), and Isla (Rooney Mara), a stranger Will meets en route to his home, who is plotting a dubious future of her own.
Again, this is a hot-shit idea around which to build your film. And Isla and the Harbors bat around the consequences and morality of Thomas’ exploration at length. It becomes a little repetitive in that respect and it doesn’t help that Jason Segel, although game to add a different layer to his on-screen persona, may not have the gravitas of someone like Matt Damon who this project might’ve suited better. Segel’s back-and-forths with the always-laconic Redford never hit a fever pitch (but if you want to see Segel excel out of his comfort zone, check out the under-seen The End of the Tour).
This story is very personalized, taking place mostly at Thomas’ mansion, and I feel like I would’ve loved to see the story of the rest of the world’s reaction fo The Discovery. We hear about the suicides, but what other chaos might ensue? With no real consequence of death, would people act more recklessly? Would anarchy set in? Would people who are struggling just give up and have no fear in doing so? The effect on the everyday human would be another good movie.
Writer/director Charlie McDowell is doing his best Jeff Nichols-lite here. With a bigger budget, he could probably churn out a Christopher Nolan-lite movie in the future. The film looks and sounds appropriately stylish, but there is lack of suspense, terror or huge personal stakes, just a lot of idea-battin’. So when the mind-bending finale hits, it’s very welcome and very successful. I’ve always said a good ending can make an OK movie really good, and that’s happened here. Parts of the middle of this film can be a slog, but when the story concludes, it’s satisfying as hell. Don’t kill yourself before it’s over.
Directed by: Charlie McDowell
Release Date: March 31, 2017
Run Time: 110 Minutes