Directed by Sean Brosnan ( our very own Pierce Brosnan’s son), My Father Die tells the story of a deaf man, Asher (Joe Anderson) on a collision course with his abhorrent and sociopath father, Ivan (Gary Stretch) in the rural American south. To call their relationship dysfunctional is an understatement given the first time we see them together, Ivan bashes the hearing out of Asher’s head then proceeds to brutalise the life of his older son, Chester. Details, almost animalistic in nature, abound but let’s just say Chester had his hand in a cookie jar labelled Ivan.
The early parts of this film are shot in a silky monochromatic pallet and as the film progresses, the black and white comes to represent the past, a more pleasant period in time for Asher. These scenes are so soothing and poetic as we suck in the tight bond between Asher and his brother, giving us a reason to jump on his bandwagon of revenge 10 years later after his father is released from prison early for the murder of his older son. With Asher’s hearing stripped away, his voice ostensibly follows. But there remains the innocence hovering over the film with a narration in his childhood voice. He holds onto a wolf-skin headgear his brother used to wear and it speaks to a part of him that never left that moment in time.
We despise Ivan. He’s the most abhorrent screen presence I have seen in a good minute – the poster boy of ultraviolence, sadism and chauvinism. But I felt Brosnan went too far with the handling of this character. Killing your teenage son is enough to have an audience want to jump onscreen with pitchforks, but in classic exploitation fashion, subtlety is thrown out of the window as Ivan is given the opportunity to feed his bloodlust in lurid fashion given the least opportunity. There are times his camera is a little too glorifying of Ivan and sociopathic ways. I reckon the problem here is Brosnan is unable to harness the humour he employs in other sections of the film like the charismatic preacher we will come to be acquainted with, who is caricatured up to 11.
I will give Brosnan props for conjuring up an interesting dynamic between Asher and his father as pertaining to a pathology of violence. Though more subdued, Asher does have his moments of brutality as he treads the path of revenge and proves to have similar propensities for violence as his father. But Brosnan also knows to give Asher moments of humanity that keep him grounded. Key to this is the time spends with his childhood friend, Nana (Candace Smith), who happens to be the cookie jar Ivan had his name on 10 years ago. I just feel more drama could have been harnessed from the father-son thing if Ivan had been more layered and less rabid grizzly bear.
You can’t really fault the performances here, for the most part. Anderson evokes a bit of Travis Bickle and convinces as deaf and mute although that disability never comes to bear in the action scenes. As detestable as Ivan’s Stretch is, he is an effective screen presence with his imposing, sometimes scary, cadence. His eyes just milk tension out of scenes. I noted ‘for the most part’ earlier because Brosnan, somewhere along the line just goes bonkers. This transition to near camp is not so jarring because we kind of see it coming plus, if you’re like me, you still have an open mind by the time the unhinged denouement of this 90-minute film comes around.
On the surface, My Father Die is a trashy B-movie revenge flick ornate with testosterone, machine guns, motorbikes, black leather vests, hard rock and confederate flags – all grating stuff. But underneath, there some Greek tragedy inflexions but only to a ratchet degree. There is very little restraint here ultimately keeping this film from being as refined as it could have been given it wields some inspired moments when it toes the line of simplicity. The film’s one claim to consistency is its gorgeous DP work as it navigates two time periods, enriching the detail of the southern setting with its saturated colour scheme for the present and the mesmerising black and white as we calm our souls in the past.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana