Directed by James Schamus
Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts
Indignation, based on the novel of the same name by author Philip Roth, serves a warmed story of life's intricacies, shown through the eyes of a college freshman. With awards-worthy performances and a delicious screenplay, the film rises above its missteps, sticking with you long after the credits roll.
It's the second year of the Korean War and college freshman Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) heads to college in Ohio, leaving behind his loving parents in Newark and setting out for a life of discovery and chance. Being one of only a handful of Jews on campus, Marcus soon becomes even more of an anomaly when he reveals that he is an atheist while attempting to discredit the role of religion within the school's academics. When not studying, Marcus spends his time working in the school's library, where he meets the affable and gorgeous Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). The two hit it off well and, before long, spend a first date getting more handsy than Marcus expected. His sudden awakening, both sexually and spiritually, becomes the film's ultimate drive, powering through Marcus's constant need for more in his life, without admitting that he needs anything other than himself and the love of someone else.
Lerman branches out of his comfort zone, giving a certain bravado to Marcus, a sweet kid consumed with his own ideas. While there's nothing wrong with having one's best interests in mind at all times, Marcus wears his innocent selfishness on his sleeve, a sleeve with which Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) uses to try to open Marcus's eyes and see the world beyond the black and white.
The scenes between Lerman and Letts provide the meat of the picture. Their first meeting is easily the juiciest, giving each actor plenty of dialogue to chew on and spit out while glaring at each other. The topsy-turvy conversation rises and falls with such precision that the scene will no doubt be studied by acting students for years to come. Letts is especially enjoyable, with his Caudwell taking too much joy out of pulling and pushing at Marcus's buttons, knowing exactly when and where he'll eventually break. Lerman's Marcus, however, is a lot stronger than one may assume, giving Caudwell the greatest match his studious office has ever seen.
Becoming a lovesick college student is perfect fodder for a coming of age tale such as this. And, Marcus proves to be every bit as stereotypical as the same character he tries to pretend he's not. A glance at Olivia's bare leg, crossed and kicking as she studies at one of the library's tables, is enough to drive his mind wild. Just like swift romances before it, the two find a feeble ground on which to branch out, becoming each other's constant companion and support. While Marcus holds in his emotions and true fears and feelings, Olivia leaves nothing to the imagination, revealing the darkest secrets of her past way quicker than one would expect in a relationship.
Olivia's role in the story is more than just the pretty girl. There's a certain desire in Marcus's eyes that allows him to be his most vulnerable around her. Though, it seems that he never quite realizes that her presence isn't just to please him, we see flashes of his utter selflessness when it comes to her safety and security.
Roth's novel is cleverly on display here, never losing sight of the beauty in Roth's words. Almost every piece of the filmmaking machine is on par with the best, including the costumes and touches of realism in the set pieces and performances. What seems to be lacking is a sense of the big picture. A story like this, so full of nostalgic details and powerful symmetry in its words, deserves an epic telling. In defense of the story, it is an intimate tale, but I kept finding myself wanting something a little more, a little richer, and little more grandiose. Thankfully, the powerful performances by the cast are enough to distract from the lack of scope.
The movie chugs along at a decent pace, especially effective in the realm of how dialogue-heavy the story's arc is. Each word, though, completely grasps you and doesn't let go. Some movies are more about the performances and words than anything else, and Indignation is a great example of that.
Runtime: 1h 50min