Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Peanut Butter Falcon

This début feature from Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz is built upon a wonderfully naturalistic performance by Zack Gottsagen, who always wanted to be an actor and never let his Down syndrome get in the way.

Apparently Tyler and Michael met Zack at a camp for disabled and non-disabled people and liked him so much that they wrote the movie for him, and although he’s joined here by several famous players, this is nevertheless all about him.

Zak (Zack) is a 22 year old living in a North Carolina retirement home and deemed a ‘flight risk’ because he has no family and supposedly can’t look after himself outside. Nevertheless, he keeps trying to break out with help from cranky roommate Carl (the great Bruce Dern), and when he finally does, sheer chance leads him to a boat owned by fugitive fisherman Tyler (Shia LaBeouf filling in at the last minute for his pal Ben Foster). The troubled Tyler leaves Zak to fend for himself but, later, comes to like the kid, turning this into a slightly contrived but still sweetly touching buddy movie, especially when it emerges that Tyler still grieves for his late brother Mark (Jon Bernthal in silent flashback glimpses that could have been filmed in one afternoon).

Tyler’s being pursued by rival Duncan (John Hawkes in nasty mode) and Zak is, in turn, being tailed by carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), and when she finally runs into the pair and sees how they’ve bonded, this feels a bit improbable but so touching that it hardly matters. When the three later set off to find Zak’s hero, the ‘Salt Water Redneck’, to fulfill his dreams of being a professional wrestler and become ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’, you might potentially not believe a word of it – although you will believe in Gottsagen.

Holding his own with the established cast members, Zack plays Zak as a tough, spirited guy, but the script and the film never portray him as cute, saintly or sagely. No, the onscreen Zak is often bewildered, frustrated and angry, which makes him seem real – vividly, sometimes hilariously, even impossibly so.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (M) is in cinemas from 30 January

DM Bradley

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