Ang Lee’s screenwriter-producer/Dreyer scholar/studio executive extraordinaire James Schamus turns first-time director at the fine age of fifty-six in the masterful miniature, “Indignation,” an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel about the savage repercussions of a kindly bestowed sexual act. In 1951, Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the son of a Newark kosher butcher, eludes the Korean War draft by taking a scholarship at a conservative, Midwestern college where he meets the unimpeachably blonde and brilliant Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). The repressiveness of the era blooms, including a show-stopping, fifteen-minute intellectual confrontation between Marcus and the Ohio college’s Dean Caudwell (Tony- and Pulitzer-winning Tracy Letts). Gentle, not genteel, bristling but not bursting, Schamus’ elegiac adaptation of Roth’s twenty-ninth novel embraces the consequences of trashed innocence and impossible love, the simplicity of gestures and the complexity of consequence.
Straightforward lines are elevated by performance: “You’re not a simple soul and you don’t belong here”; “If you’re not a peeping Tom, what’s the point” and Gadon’s habitation of “I, who have 6,000 moods a minute!” The look of the film is understated and stately, keenly detailed yet still reserved, with lovely work by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (“The Bling Ring,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Meek’s Cutoff”) and production designer Inbal Weinberg (“Beasts of No Nation,” “Pariah,” “Blue Valentine”). While not directly reflected, the press notes for “Indignation” indicate lovely nuances in design and décor that striate what we see on screen, not limited to the handwriting of Olivia being patterned after Sylvia Plath’s. With Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield, Philip Ettinger, Ben Rosenfield, Sue Dahlman. 110m. (Ray Pride)
“Indignation” opens Friday, July 29.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.