Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015, Craig Zobel)
I haven’t read the novel this is based on, but I do know the film adaptation has 50% more characters in it. What was once a two-hander is now a triangle, and it’s hard for me to know if it was for better or for worse. On one hand, the addition of a third person into this post-apocalyptic mix allows Zobel to explore themes of manipulation, mistrust, and the core of human nature — much like he did to tremendous effect in COMPLIANCE. But Pine doesn’t do so good a job here, and a lot of the worst pieces of dialogue (Zobel did not write this script, for once — it was Nissar Modi) come out of his mouth, so the change was potentially disastrous.
One element that can’t be faulted is Tim Orr’s gorgeous photography. One of today’s best DPs for day exteriors of lush forested nature (Orr is David Gordon Green’s go-to man), Orr doesn’t let a single shot go by without careful and beautiful lighting, color, and texture. Zobel backs him up with a sharp eye for composition as well as the right rhythm for editing — this is an easy watch and a brisk 95 minutes; the establishing shots and close-up inserts are just on screen long enough to make the point once, then we move on.
Robbie and Ejiofor are also up to the task: the former reveals shades to her character little by little, until we realize which reactions were genuine and which may have been confused; the latter exudes sympathy and likability, which makes John’s moral compass nearly impossible to stabilize. What we’re left with is a strong backbone for an extraordinary movie, provoking chewy questions about deception and selfishness, but hampered a bit by some clunky dialogue, an awkward and forced religion vs. science allegory, and a third wheel that may inspire more ambiguity than just the ethical kind.