Kodachrome movie review: If Christopher Nolan had Netflix, he’d be watching this
Director - Mark Raso
Cast - Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis, Elizabeth Olsen
Rating - 3.5/5
“Shot on 35 mm Kodak film.”
Usually technical information such as this comes right at the end of the credits. As you and I both know, nobody really stays back for them - clearly, since many of you would probably not even be aware of this fact. But around two minutes into the credits for the new Netflix film Kodachrome - around the same time when your average Marvel movie rewards your patience with a cameo - these are the words that appear on the screen. The simple, white letters against a plain, black background don’t betray the immense pride behind the declaration, but you can sense it.
It feels good to call Kodachrome a film - because unlike most ‘films’ these days, it’s actually shot on celluloid. But in Kodachrome’s case, it was almost a prerequisite - and not just an artistic flourish. As you would have already gathered from the title, this is a film about film - an endangered medium that needs conservation, protection, and preservation.
Such is the immediacy of this problem that it brought Christopher Nolan - perhaps the greatest (and certainly the most popular) champion of this cause - to India last month. Quentin Tarantino, another vocal advocate of film went so far as to declare that movies shot on digital - which is most movies these days - are just glorified television.
Despite the different strategies they’ve deployed to arrive at what is essentially the same goal - the resurgence of celluloid - there’s a sense that both Nolan and Tarantino would love Kodachrome.
Like the recent Alexander Payne film, Nebraska - it, too, was shot on celluloid (black & white in fact) - Kodachrome is also a story about an estranged father-son duo taking one last road trip across America. In Nebraska, the elderly father was convinced that he had won the lottery, and insisted that his son - who saw the scam for what it was - accompany him to another state to collect the winnings. It’s a delightful film that everyone should see, maybe even before Kodachrome - which, despite the similarities of its premise, is a more polished movie. It’s less subtle, more pointed in its observations about troubled relationships, and not in the least worried about falling for cliches.
Jason Sudeikis plays Matt Ryder, a down-on-his-luck music executive who simply has not been able to change with the times. His ear for talent remains unparalleled - even his boss can’t deny him that - but in an age when the quality of an artist is not even on the list, it’s a skill that has stopped being of any use to Matt. After blowing a potential signing, he is given two weeks to seal the deal with an up-and-coming rock band, or lose his job.
Almost as if by coincidence - there are several in Kodachrome, all part of its charm - an attractive young woman arrives at his office. She’s Zoe, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and she says she’s a personal secretary/nurse to his father, the world-renowned photographer, Ben Ryder, played by Ed Harris. Ben’s dying, she tells him. He has barely a few weeks to live. But while rummaging through his old belongings, he found four reels of Kodachrome film, and the last laboratory that still processes Kodachrome is going to close very soon. Ben would like Matt and Zoe to accompany him on the road trip, before it’s too late.
The problem, however, as Matt wastes no time in pointing out to Zoe, is that he hasn’t seen his father in over a decade. When he was a child, Ben abandoned Matt and his mother, who died alone shortly afterwards. Matt grew up with his uncle, aunt, and a crippling resentment. There is no way that he’s agreeing to this.
But, of course, he does. And of course things play out in exactly the manner that you’d expect. In fact, the reason I’ve been rather generous with the plot this time is to give you just enough information and see if you can predict the ending. You probably could, right down to the contents of those last four reels of film. That’s the sort of movie this is.
But it has earnestness to spare. And all of its flaws - a rather predictable arc, a sappy conclusion, and cutesy, American indie tone - can be waved away thanks to a trio of excellent performances.
Ed Harris, as the curmudgeonly Ben, is in many ways an older version of the sort of jerks Jason Sudeikis usually plays, and in that regard, it’s perfect casting. Their scenes together are crackling with tension, restraint, and bottled emotion - even when they’re baring their souls to each other. And this imbalance could only have been equalised with solid support, which Elizabeth Olsen is really good at. Her character comes with her own baggage, but not necessarily heavy enough to bog down the rest of the film.
Because Kodachrome is a real film, with real, carefully written characters, and a sincerity that feels almost old-fashioned - like the celluloid with which it is made.
Watch the Kodachrome trailer here