Directed by: Brian Stynes Starring: Michael Linehan, Allison O’Flynn, and Cora Fenton Indie Film Review by: Owen Herman
Brian Stynes’ feature debut Penitent is a sharp and moving drama that challenges the audience to think and feel on their own, resulting in a film that is both emotionally complex and thoroughly entertaining.
Michael Linehan stars as Jason, a man trying to adjust to life after prison. Beset with guilt and paranoia, Jason struggles to keep it together, living in a house with just a sleeping bag and seeing his few friendships drift away. The film keeps the details of Jason’s past hidden at first, not only creating a mystery for the audience but also allowing his character to be sympathised with. As the clever and well-polished script slowly reveals more, the film begins to challenge our sympathetic view of Jason and therefore creates a character who is complex, believable, and utterly engaging.
The brilliant script only sets up the character, and it is Linehan who seals it, giving one of the finest performances I’ve seen in an indie film. His fellow cast members aren’t too far behind either. The film is filled to the brim with talented actors, giving great natural performances. The combination of such a well written script and such fine acting is a real joy.
There is a simplicity to Penitent that is often forgotten about by other filmmakers. Stynes never feels the need to over complicate the story or add unnecessary dramatic moments. The film’s focus is entirely on the characters and how their lives intertwine in a wretched and unfair world. The film isn’t challenging audiences in how the engage with it, like many overly complex story arcs, but how they react to it. The film has no one clear message and instead allows you to question how actions of both the past and present should be perceived.
Stynes has created something that is both thought provoking and entertaining. It is a bold film that succeeds through the talent of those involved in its creation. A real gem.