Indignation, review: ‘Its saving grace is the cast: Lerman, Letts and Gabon’

Sarah Gabon and Logan Lerman in Indignation. Picture: Alison Cohen Rosa/Summit

Sarah Gabon and Logan Lerman in Indignation. Picture: Alison Cohen Rosa/Summit - Credit: Archant

This adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel is filmed like a play, sucking out much of the dramatic impetus

Another week, another first time director having a bash at filming a Philip Roth novel.

James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features and scriptwriter on most of Ang Lee’s most prestigious films, has decided to try his hand at one of Roth’s later novels, the story of a bright young Jewish boy Marcus (Logan Lerman) from New Jersey who gets a scholarship to study law at a strait-laced, decidedly Christian university in Ohio in 1951, thus avoiding the draft for the Korean War.

Unlike the rigorous skim read approach of Ewan McGregor to American Pastoral last week, Schamus has a rather original approach to trying to transfer a literary novel to the screen: he shoots it as though it’s the film of a play.

His script is made up almost entirely of long dialogue scenes between two, sometimes three, people. These can go on for five, six, seven minutes, sometimes even longer. Between these there are short exterior scenes or shots of college life which are like the house lights going down between scenes; you can almost imagine a bunch of stage hands scuttling around behind screen setting up the props and shifting the backcloth ready for the next act.

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Then after a minute or two the curtain will rise on Marcus and another character as they embark on another set piece dialogue.

This approach sucks most of the dramatic impetus out of the story but it does at least tackle and discuss, literally and at length, the themes and ideas of the book; primarily the way small decisions and choices shape our lives.

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During his time at college Marcus goes on one date, with Gloria Hutton (Sarah Gabon) who performs, totally unbidden, a sexual act and Marcus’s flustered and confused reaction starts a chain of events that threaten the bright future he expects to forge for himself.

Indignation’s saving grace is its performances. Tracey Letts shines in the showy role of the college Dean; Lerman is like a young Christian Slater who has had all the Jack Nicholson affectations surgically removed, while Gabon is an enticing mix of dirty minded innocence, reminiscent of Patricia Arquette. reviews of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, the blu-rays of Woody Allen’s Interiors and The Beatles: Eight Days A Week.

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