Imagine, in your youth, doing something so terrible that you can never make it right. Even to try to explain your conduct sounds like a feeble attempt at rationalisation. All that is left to you is to hold your peace and serve your time.
Marvin has been away for 17 years, serving his sentence, after being rightfully convicted, in his early 20s, of the brutal murder of an old woman. He returns without fanfare, skateboarding the final stretch into town along straight, empty featureless roads.
Stopping off at a roadside cafe, he shares a cigarette out back with a waitress. Good-looking, well-toned and decorated in artfully designed tattoos (which we assume pre-date his stay in prison), it’s no great surprise when the dowdy, bored waitress offers sex. Marvin politely yet firmly declines. He’s going home.
It’s a less than happy homecoming. In his absence, his brother has killed himself and he soon learns that his mother, Bernadette (played with steely restraint by Kathy Bates), is terminally ill. The approach of death is not (at least at first) enough to thaw Bernadette’s hostility towards her miscreant child. Others too, in this midwestern town, are unwilling to forgive and forget. The dead woman’s blustering, violent grandson, Russell (played with impressively pompous vim by James Jordan), is determined to drive Marvin out of town.
Whilst the priest, Father Browning (Stephen Root) seems genuinely glad he’s back, Marvin’s only genuine supporters are his drug-addled best friend, Wade (Derek Richardson, slurring and gurning with considerable charm) and Bernadette’s resolutely compassionate nurse, Jayden (Lil Rey Howery leaning one degree back from a halo in this role).
Though her loudmouth brother rages against the convict’s return, single mother, Delta (Aisling Franciosi) – having been too young at the time of the killing to grasp the full horror of her grandmother’s death – finds herself increasingly conflicted. When Marvin is subjected to a brutal and humiliating assault (which he barely resists) a bond begins to form between the two. The script does not quite earn this relationship, but there’s enough chemistry between the two to sell it to a willing audience.
As Bernadette wheezes and stumbles towards the grave, will Marvin’s contrition win redemption and love, or is there yet more of a penalty for him to pay?.
The performances are universally strong. Franciosi’s Delta is resilient but floundering before Marvin appears, while McLaughlin’s Marvin fits impressively into the damaged yet decent, strong and not-quite-silent model Clint Eastwood used to own.
Franka Potente (writer and director) shows a gift for creating multi-dimensional characters (as an example, Russell’s violent posturing is neatly offset by a tender affection for his sister’s toddler).
“Home” feels like Potente flexing her off-screen creative muscles (cinema goers will know her as an actor – most famously opposite Matt Damon in “The Bourne Identity”). The story proceeds with a measured but purposeful gait, well fitted to its environment. It has that ‘things will take as long as they need to take’ attitude, so characteristic of inland America. Once or twice – as in the climactic scene in church – this results in it being underwritten and under-directed, but even this is in welcome contrast to the hyper-dramatic emotional foghorning of many US films. Here we have a US setting and US cast, but a production team that is largely German. It’s an interesting blend. I’d be glad to see more.
Home is available on digital download from Amazon, AppleTV, Sky Store, Virgin Media and Google Play.