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Running Away & Cleansing the Soul


By Roger Costa


While running away together, but for different reasons and directions, two abandoned young men are invited by a blind preacher to hear the Gospel and take a deep dive into the river. Processing an unlikely friendship, of mutual support and reliance, as well as interests and goals to find freedom, they are called to reconnect with the Creator in order to shape and strengthen themselves. The hot-headed, rebellious fisherman Tyler (Shia Labeouf) refuses the improvised baptism, convincing his runaway-partner Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome, to go into the river, despite his inability to swim or even to understand the ritual. After the spiritual encounter, those inspirational words continue to fill their hearts with hope, as they surrender entirely to the Almighty. It is deeply represented as they leave the preacher’s territory, while reflecting on themselves; while in movement, on the road, the rays of sun shine upon them, as they touch each other’s face, as a response with such grace and joy for being made accordingly to His own image.

This moving spiritual experience (one that will definitely bring tears) gives them motivation to pursuit their goals: Tyler must avoid a pair of thugs (including Oscar nominee John Hawkes) with whom he had a crab-merchandise dispute, as he leaves the state in search of opportunities; Zak had always dreamt of becoming a wrestler, and plans to get trained at a school managed by an iconic wrestler (Thomas Haden Church). Their lives are suddenly connected, as they find familiar comfort to relief their disappointment and abandonment: Tyler is haunted by the tragic death of his brother, and Zak was left alone at the clinic-home, rejected by his family. Conceived by writers-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, in their outstanding feature debut collaboration, this heartbreaking, humorous, crowd-pleasing fugitive story is certainly one of the most accomplished indie films of the year. The “Thelma & Louise” structure works efficiently, as a road movie on the highways, on the river, or by foot, the pair is running from their realities and dangers in order to find themselves.

The music, editing and stupendous cinematography, capture the hopelessness and despair of its characters (including a fine performance by Dakota Johnson as the social worker responsible to rescue Zak), and the idyllic, mysterious, remote and serene landscapes of the wilderness, creating an absorbing, poetical and insightful atmosphere.

Shia Labeouf is incredibly convincing and mature, completely different from his “Transformers” phase, and newcomer Zack Gottsagen is a revelation, confirming his confidence and resistance to battle the obstacles of his condition. Winner of the Audience Award at SXSW, and named Best Film at both Heartland and Nantucket Film Festivals, it’s a fresh, pleasant, humble and powerful cleansing soul experience. (Roadside Attractions. 9/5. Chelsea Cinepolis, Village East Cinema, AMC Empire.)

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