Kodachrome: Film in the digital age

Scroll too quickly through Netflix and you’ll surely miss “Kodachrome,” a feature that at first glance sounds like a benign documentary miniseries about dated photography techniques.
But take the time to actually sit down and watch director Mark Raso’s sophomore feature film and you may be struck by how poignant and bittersweet it truly is.

The story is far from unique.

An estranged father and son are forced together by circumstance and impending death, traveling across the country in search of the last store still developing Kodachrome film.

How Raso and his cast tell this all-too-familiar tale is a different story altogether.

Four-time Academy Award nominee Ed Harris delivers an emotionally-charged performance as Benjamin Ryder, a world-class photojournalist with little time left.

While lesser actors would chew through the scenery by playing Ben as an unredeemable aging narcissist, Harris provides needed depth to the role, infusing the character it’s the sort of clarity only death can provide.

There isn’t any one singular aspect to Harris’ performance that defines this shift. Instead slowly over time, Harris reveals to the audience a changed man and it turn that may come to
define the later stages of his illustrious career.

Paired against Harris, the hit-and-miss “Saturday Night Live” funnyman Jason Sudeikis shows unexpected dramatic range as Ben’s son Matt. Though audiences follow Matt through the film as the primary protagonist, Sudeikis calmly takes a backseat often in major moments, allowing other actors to shine.

His natural disarming charm and ease at playing the anti-hero allow Sudeikis to become wonderfully dislikeable and yet somehow redeemable at the same time. It’s a performance that shouldn’t work as well as it does.

Elizabeth Olsen continues a string of rock solid secondary lead work with a deliberate, headstrong turn as Ben’s nurse and personal assistant Zooey. Olsen does wonders with a woefully under written part whose back story feels shoehorned in at the last minute.

The character actress more than holds her own in scenes opposite Harris and regularly outshines Sudeikis, but not at the expense of either performance.

“Kodachrome” rounds out its main cast with terrific supporting efforts from Dennis Haysbert as Ben’s long-time manager and Bruce Greenwood as Ben’s younger brother and stand-in father figure for Matt.

On a surface level, no potential audience under the age of 30 is likely to actively seek out “Kodachrome,” regardless of how easy it is to view.

This makes Raso’s film an especially curious choice for a Netflix original film, where 100 percent of moviegoers will watch the movie on a cellular device or in the privacy of their own home.

It also significantly undercuts Raso’s deliberate decision to shoot “Kodachrome” entirely in 35mm Kodak film. Just as Ben laments in the feature, digital translation of the picture loses a lot of the film’s authenticity and texture never to be recovered.

Only the few audiences lucky enough to have caught the movie at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival will get to experience the film as it’s meant to be seen.

Raso overcomes a flawed script littered with frequently overused cliches by leaning on the talents of his cast and focusing each frame as if it were a photograph Ben took, a snapshot in his mind.

Keeping this thought in mind for a second viewing enhances both the depth and quality of the film.

“Kodachrome” would face an upward battle come awards season even with studio backing, but it appears Netflix has little interest in giving the indie upstart any push or promotion.

Casual Netflix viewers will already have to dig through piles of pedestrian cinema and the majority of Adam Sandler’s increasingly bland filmography to find “Kodachrome.”

Audiences willing to be aggressive with their search function will be highly rewarded with an emotional, resonating dramedy that harkens back to an era of filmmaking that’s harder to find by the minute.

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