Saturday 3 October 2020

Movie Review: Kodachrome (2017)

A father-son road trip, Kodachrome is confined to expected frames but benefits from a grizzled Ed Harris performance.

Record label talent agent Matt Ryder (Jason Sudeikis) is barely hanging on to his job when he learns his estranged father, celebrated photographer Ben Ryder (Harris), has three months to live. Matt has not seen his dad for 10 years, and is resentful Ben abandoned the family when Matt was a child. Ben's nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen) and business manager Larry (Dennis Haysbert) nevertheless convince Matt to accompany Ben on a road trip to Parsons, Kansas, where the last store processing Kodachrome film is about to close. Ben wants to process four old but recently found rolls of film before dying.

Ben's caustic personality makes for a fraught trip, with Zooey trying to create a truce between father and son. They take a side trip to Cleveland to visit Ben's brother Dean (Bruce Greenwood) and his wife Sarah (Wendy Crewson), who helped raise Matt. At another stop in Chicago Matt attempts to save his career by poaching an up-and-coming band from a rival label. A romance develops between Matt and Zooey, but achieving a thaw between Matt and his increasingly frail dad will be difficult.

Inspired by an A.G. Sulzberger magazine article about the end of the photo development era, Kodachrome defaults to a routine journey of re-acquaintance between a father and son. Barely able to sustain a civil conversation, the two men spar for long periods, Matt's lingering threads of discontent and sense of abandonment obscuring any pathway towards rapprochement.

The script by Jonathan Tropper rarely offers any fresh perspectives on the well-worn themes of broken communication channels across generations and perceptions of failed fatherhood. But director Mark Raso has an ace up his sleeve in the form of Ed Harris enjoying himself as the abrasive dying man who never cared for others to begin with, and now cares even less. Channeling the fatalism of great artists, Ben Ryder classifies himself as a chronicler of human history, and Harris relishes the character's freedom to push all available rankle buttons, secure in his own legacy.

The rest of the plot is familiar in the extreme. The stuttering romance between Matt and Zooey is feeble, and the four film rolls are an obvious and painfully predictable MacGuffin. The patched-on music industry subtext provides the opportunity for some moany soundtrack songs and generic rock band conversations before turning scratchy.

Some sharp dialogue and moments of soft humour do enliven Kodachrome, but this road trip is only saved by one veteran photographer seeking a final exposure.

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