LIFF27 - The Retrieval - Cinema Review

'a film as confident as it is occasionally empty of narrative movement'

Occasionally beautiful, Chris Eska's Civil War Drama The Retrieval is impressive mainly for its patience, a quality which, fairly or unfairly, it feels to me is occasionally lacking in contemporary, independent American cinema. Not in The Retrieval. Told with care, Eska's film benefits from three notable central performances, which he gives time to flourish, as the journeying narrative advances slowly on a somewhat bitter end.

Residing somewhere near to the battle lines, young Will (Ashton Sanders) and his Uncle Marcus (Keston John) are sent by their bounty hunter employer (a terrifying Bill Oberst Jr.) to collect a wanted man (Tishuan Scott) from the North and return him South. The 'road trip' narrative develops through empty wood and swampland as Nate (Scott) travels with the two under the pretence that he must return to see his dying brother.

Guilt plays a huge part in what drives The Retrieval, as Will struggles with the fact that he and Marcus must betray Nate in order to survive the bounty hunter's wrath. Meanwhile, Nate contemplates the family he is supposedly returning to, and the girl he left behind (Christine Horn).

But therein lies at least some of the problem with The Retrieval, because although ideas around guilt and the North/South divide are present, it never feels as though Eska's film gets to grips with either of them or brings them into focus with a compelling voice. You can appreciate why Nate doesn't want to return to the less liberal South and appreciate even more Will's feelings of guilt towards a man who saves his life, but the exploration of those ideas stops short, leaving you with a fairly empty travelling narrative that, yes, at times is beautiful and elegiac, but otherwise has only small pleasantries to offer.

Certainly one of those pleasantries, and the reason The Retrieval is worth watching, can be found in the performances of Sanders, Scott and Oberst Jr., who display various levels of accomplished new voice, creating a film as confident as it is occasionally empty of narrative movement.




The Retrieval plays LIFF again on Saturday 16th at 20.00 in Vue.

The 27th Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) takes place from the 6th-21st November at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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