Some of this is owed to how I’ve chosen to live my life. Though I’m as imperfect as the rest, I do try to avoid (whenever humanly possible) judging others, especially when it comes to the things they’ve done. I’ve not walked a mile in their shoes – as the saying goes – so I just don’t feel I have that right. I can appreciate an obligation any of us feels to speak up when the spirit moves us; but there are far more things that any organization does right than it does wrong … or perhaps that’s just how I’ve always tried to look at the world. Instead, yes, I’ll focus on the output and outcomes; if I disagree with it and what it does, then I’ll try to wrangle my emotions around those factors, instead of insulting a group as a whole.
But … Hollywood and those who play within its confines love to cast stones at matters of faith and belief, and I see these stories as unspooling with narrative laziness and usually predictable performances. Though The Righteous may not dial its anti-religious zeal up to eleven (as they say), I’d still suggest that it beat that drum rather consistently with its exploration about how one imperfect soul brought on the very destruction of Earth itself.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“A former priest, Frederic Mason, anguished by the tragic death of his young daughter, finds himself wrestling with his religious convictions when a mysterious young man appears wounded on his doorstep in need of assistance. After he and his wife Ethel welcome him across the threshold and into their household, Frederic sees an opportunity for redemption in this mysterious and troubled lost soul, who might just be an emissary from God, or maybe the Devil …”
You’ll have to pardon me if I get up on my soapbox for a few moments.
I can appreciate any storyteller’s unique point-of-view. I’m especially cognizant of the fact that institutions of faith and government deserve the full light of day when applying scrutiny to their purported good works, and I think – as a culture – we can always do more to ensure that these various bodies – large and small – are peopled with the very best among us. Good men (and good women) do good work, and it’s probably necessary for us to – on a regular basis – shine a healthy bit of light on these folks if for no better reason than to discourage those inside who may’ve fallen to step aside and let others engage in – ahem – God’s work.
But … and I don’t ask this frivolously … is there any organization other than organized religion that filmmakers can direct their ire upon these days?
While writer, director, and star Mark O’Brien’s debut film is exceedingly well-crafted, I also found it to have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu to it. Haven’t we been here before? Is there not some major and minor motion picture every single calendar season that comes out against religion and its practitioners? Why are these storytellers so obsessed with deconstructed men and women of faith when the greater world out there clearly has villains aplenty? It’s beyond myopic, at this point, and borders on the pedantic … and I’m really not sure which is worse.
Now I’m off my soapbox. Sigh.
Quibbles aside, O’Brien, Czerny and Mimi Kuzyk all turn in great work in one of the screen’s odder threesomes (not that kind!), elevating the script’s better dramatic moments in some surprising small ways. Like a great stage play, The Righteous has a good handful of scenes structured around fabulous dialogue – I’m always a fan of well-written exchanges, and the flick has its share – that both defines its individuals as well as crafts their respective personal journeys. Though I thought the sum total here was a bit predictable at times, I’ll always relish work done well … and the film’s better moments are those elevated emotional conflict over the obligatory social indictment.
People are far from perfect. The organizations they build? They’ll always be as imperfect as its membership. We’re all doomed, my friends … not just the most pious.
The Righteous (2021) was produced by Panoramic Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the exceptional Arrow Films. As for the technical specifications? Well, don’t adjust your color sets, my friends, as this one was rendered fully in black-and-white … and it looks fabulous as a result, though Czerny could’ve really used a bit of color in a few sequences as he comes off looking an awful lot like Bela Lugosi. Ouch.
As for the special features? As usual for Arrow, there’s a very good assortment, and one should expect no less:
- A brand-new audio commentary from writer, director, and actor O’Brien and editor K. Spencer Jones;
- Cast and crew interviews;
- A roundtable discussion with O’Brien and guests;
- Stage presentation with the associated Q&A session;
- A few other making-of and behind-the-scenes bits;
- Image gallery;
- Film score; and
- A collector’s booklet (with essay) and production details.
Being perfectly frank, this was a title I wanted to enjoy a bit more than I did, but The Righteous honestly took some fairly easy swings at some relatively predictable characters and situations. I felt as if O’Brien staked out some comfortable territory, populated it with a few good speeches (and some great actors), and then just let the material coast instead of swinging for the fences. Plus … dare I suggest that maybe Horror movies set against the backdrop of failed religious figures has grown more than a bit dull? For what it’s worth, fallen men of faith have become increasingly easy targets – especially in our jaded modern times – but leave it to storytellers to leave no stone unturned … even ones that have been well-flipped before.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Righteous (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.