“The Return” is a good beginning for first time director
Few in the movie industry would argue that the greatest challenge facing any filmmaker is getting his first movie made. Even with more independent films gaining attention every year, with no track record, very little money, and facing incredible odds against actually getting the movie shown anywhere, there’s little margin for error for a rookie director.
On top of all the normal obstacles, making a film actually worth watching is nearly impossible. The major studios have millions to spend getting the right cast and crew together. They have the clout to be picky when it comes to story material, and they allegedly possess the Madison Avenue marketing savvy necessary to build a hit. Yet they still produce more ho-hummers than humdingers.
These truths serve to make a film like “The Return” both amazing and satisfying. First time movie producer/writer Tracy Garner with director Michael Amundsen have fashioned an LDS-themed film with more on its mind than simply catering to the predictable peculiarities of his Mormon audience.
Garner’s multi-layered film provokes reflection without shocking, and delicately wears its tender side on its sleeve without stooping to hamfisted moralizing. For heaven’s sake, Garner is single-handedly trying to give LDS movies a good name. Halle-flippin’-lujah.
Rowe McDonald is completing his mission and has a faithful, gorgeous girlfriend (Joey Jalalian) who’s back home making plans for their imminent temple wedding. On the cab ride home, a horrific car accident leaves his life in jeopardy, but allows for a heavenly request to be granted. His life will be spared, but he is given a deadline to fulfill his goal of baptizing his wayward mother (Tayva Patch). The film depicts Rowe’s struggles to handle his apparently ill-fated engagement, his urgency to convert his mom, and his efforts to reconnect with his best friend (Raymond Zeiters), who now sports multiple piercings and a wild tattoo on his shaved head.
Despite a leisurely pace and a few missteps (the bar scenes seem a little forced), “The Return” gets credit for its universally good acting and for staying true to its organic spirit. Dealing with a topic like unconditional love and its power to vanquish guilt-inducing judgment requires first hand experience and keen insight. It says a lot about “The Return” that little of the dialogue feels scripted.
For those who may not appreciate the exhilarating, in-your-face bluntness of “God’s Army 2: States of Grace,” this impressive debut is a gentle giant that deserves wide exposure.
No MPAA rating, but probably PG for adult themes.