Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Ryan Redford, director/writer
Starring: Garret Dillahunt (Sherman Oliver), Donal Logue (Franklin Page), Molly Parker (Irene Page)
War is hell. Not just for those who die but for those who survive. Ryan Redford’s Oliver Sherman is an intimate drama about what happens to the soldiers who make it back home after they’ve left something behind on the battlefield. It won the Best Canadian Feature Film Award at both Sudbury’s Cinefest and Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema but now this deliberately quiet, slow paced character study has moved from the festival circuit and has to battle blockbusters to make a commercial impact.
Those who decide to see the film will witness fine acting from an accomplished trio of performers. Garret Dillahunt, a lean and handsome actor, seems made to play laconic characters like Sherman Oliver, the soldier whose name was reversed by Military Hospital staff while he was in amnesiac shock, recovering from a bullet wound to his head suffered in combat. His intense, quasi-Method acting works well against that of Donal Logue, who plays his old Army buddy Franklin Page.
Logue’s open faced, sad but romantic demeanour and Dillahunt’s tight-lipped interiority work well with Molly Parker’s friendly but cool persona as Irene, Franklin’s wife. It’s Irene who begins to question what Sherman’s intentions are in coming to stay with the Pages years after the two combat veterans had parted ways. Director and writer Ryan Redford’s narrative coup is that Page has saved Sherman’s life, rushing into a blazing battlefield to bring his wounded friend back behind the lines, where a speedy operation saved his life.
Despite that bond, Sherman’s presence in a small Ontario town causes bewilderment and upset among the Page’s friends and children. Sherman doesn’t fit in. He swears in front of the children, drinks too much and alienates the vibrant, attractive Irene by calling her “ma’am.” The film pivots on whether Sherman can adapt or be forced to leave Franklin, his old friend, who has worked diligently to return to normal, civilian life.
Oliver Sherman is a tautly constructed drama. Its major merit is the top-notch performances from the leads. But is it the kind of film that one can easily recommend to a film-going audience? Sadly, no. This film has caught its best audience already, at festivals, and will pleasantly surprise sophisticated viewers on TV over the next few years. Its virtues–deep characterizations and a reverential approach to storytelling–will work against its theatrical release.