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Review: Civil War-Set Drama 'The Retrieval' Is A Finely Crafted & Evocative Film (Opens Friday)

by Vanessa Martinez
March 12, 2014 12:49 PM
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Variance Films has partnered up with director Chris Eska to release his powerful Civil War drama The Retrieval, starting with a special preview engagement, beginning this Friday, March 14th in Atlanta at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema, followed by an opening in New York City at Film Forum on April 2ndbefore expanding to additional theaters beginning April 18th

Star Tishuan Scott won the Jury Award for Best Actor at last year's SXSW Film Festival, for his performance as Nate, a fugitive freed man who comes across a young boy and his uncle, both who are sent by a gang of bounty hunters to capture him. The film was also the winner of the jury award for Best Narrative film at the 2013 Ashland Independent Film Festival.

Writer/director Chris Eska (2007’s August Evening) has crafted a very unique and cleverly scripted tale about a young boy named Will, played impressively by newcomer Ashton Sanders, who is sent along with his uncle Marcus (Keston John) by a gang of bounty hunters to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott), a wanted freed man. 

It’s an unexplored part of history dealing with slavery, especially on film; a complex and jarring dilemma of slaves who are promised a reward for capturing runaways and fugitive black freed men; these are oppressed slaves manipulated and many times coerced into turning against other slaves for monetary gain and survival.

The Retrieval is set during the Civil War, which serves as more of a backdrop. But it’s very much a character-driven narrative between the youngster Will and the seemingly hard-hearted Nate, a man who has undergone a traumatic separation from his wife, while fleeing up north with intentions of returning, and the loss of a child. Nate is reluctant to travel with the orphan Will and his uncle Marcus, as he should be. Their plan is to con Nate into going back to his hometown by telling him that his brother is sick and waiting to see him. There’s a carefully orchestrated plan, which will lead the bounty hunter gang to Nate’s recapture.

The young Will carries a guilty conscience; his uncle is hardly a father figure, and Will begins to seek the comfort and acceptance of the aloof Nate, more so after his uncle perishes during a Union/Confederate encounter. There are so many elements to the narrative crafted with authenticity and humanity. There’s survival, but there’s also the need for kinship, friendship and familial ties, even if such are the surrogate kind. These elements ultimately forgo survival at the very end, in a sense.

There have been comparisons to Django Unchained made on the web from articles written about the film, which I find perplexing. The Retrieval could not be more distinct in tone, style, and narrative in general.  It’s not an epic, grand scale production, but its quality is very competent, especially for a film with such a limited budget. The film is admirably photographed; its set design is striking, and its score is effective, adding to the appreciation of the film. 

But all its technical achievement wouldn't matter much, if it weren’t for the nuanced and affecting performances by the film's relative unknown actors, especially Tishuan Scott and the young Ashton Sanders, which make the film truly compelling to watch.

Retrieval is more of an observant, quietly poignant dramatic tale, that does come with its share of suspense and action sequences, that are not necessarily brutal, but true to life and utterly believable. The film reeks of authenticity, which makes the viewing of it all the more enrapturing.

Chris Eska’s resonant, gem of a film, just his second feature, is a well-researched and relevant drama with instinctual and gripping performances, which should definitely garner critical praise and appreciation from audiences and critics alike, when it debuts in theaters, starting this weekend, and on. 

Watch the trailer below:


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More: Chris Eska, Tishuan Scott

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