August 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
Released: 2013; Written by: Ken Carter, Annette Haywood-Carter, John Eugene Cay, Jr.; Directed by: Annette Haywood-Carter; With: Jim Caviezel, Jaimie Alexander, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jack McBrayer, Bradley Whitford, Sam Shepard, Hal Holbrook.
Based on a true story, Savannah is the story of Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel), an antagonistic, bombastic, son of the South who eschews his lineage, which may well have afforded him quite the pile of dough and plantation digs. Instead Ward chooses the land and his relationship to it, aided by a close friendship with a freed slave named Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his loyal pooch. He hunts duck to make his living and spends his days on the water admiring his surroundings.
The story is told, in flashback, by Christmas as he lives out his days with friend and caretaker, Jack Cay (Bradley Whitford). Jack grew up at Christmas’ side, hearing the tales of Ward Allen, and treating him like a fantastical legend. The real beauty of the movie is that, although Allen is a bit of a Paul Bunyan-esque figure in tale, he is a very real man who fought, pretty regularly, with society, the law, and his wife and, occasionally, lost.
Allen’s greatest weaknesses are drink, duck hunting, his dog, and his wife. In that order. Some of the most wonderful colorful moments in the film are those depicting Allen’s propensity for booze, but they are also the saddest as they allow for his submission. In the most telling moment (and the moment which truly pin-points Allen’s philosophy) Allen’s wife, Lucy (Jaimie Alexander) finds him in the bar, fall-down drunk, and drags him home. Once there, he attempts to prove to her that he will do as he wishes and, in the heat of the moment, shoots the eyes clean out of a painted portrait of her hanging on the wall. She presses charges and he’s jailed. While in jail, he writes a commentary for the local paper lamenting the way the world has gone. He is a man of the earth and has no desire to further explore “restless industry” as the rest of the population does. He expresses his respect for the life cycle of creatures and that he would prefer it not be slowed. The true star of this tale is the land. Savannah is a sweeping and sometimes melancholy backdrop for the story of Allen’s life and this movie is a love story to Allen’s life theories and the spaces in which he developed them.
Caviezel and Ejiofor are, predictably fantastic in this movie, weaving and developing a friendship which requires very little definition or proof. They love each other, they love the land, and they live as such. Whitford is, sadly, underused, but as they teller of the tale (and not the subject), it’s understandable. Alexander beautifully holds her own with Caviezel and refrains from allowing Lucy to become a broken record, constantly nagging at Ward to quit drinking, come home, and “civilize” himself. She allows for a lovely vulnerability and pilfers a bit of empathy from the viewer (which is a real task, as Caviezel is a charming animal). Lucy’s fate is a true tragedy and the movie (and the cast) let it be what it is: life, minus the infiltration of society and industry.
The movie is driven by Allen’s life cycle; the narrative line is based on his existence’s ebb and flow. There isn’t any cleverness here, and sometimes, like Allen, the movie just wants to admire Savannah. Luckily for us, Allen is fascinating and Savannah, especially through this lens, is enchanting.
— Leah Gehlsen Morlan