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Movie Reviews

Master Gardener ★★★★



DirectorPaul Schrader

CastJoel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell

ReleaseMay 26th 2023

Over the last few years, Paul Schrader’s exploration of middle-aged men seeking redemption has been an invigoratingly unhinged experience. From 2017’s Reverand Toller in First Reformed to William Tell in The Card Counter, each film has its unique take within Schrader’s endless odyssey for the answers that haunt us. Ending this unique trilogy, Master Gardener seeks to delve deeper into this Schrader-crafted genre with Joel Edgerton at the helm.

Narvel Roth is the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens. He is as much devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs Norma Haverhill. When Mrs Haverhill demands that he take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya as a new apprentice, chaos enters Narvel’s spartan existence, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threatens them all…

There is a symbolic essence within Master Gardener that makes it a somberly enlightening experience. Narvel’s past is etched on his body, and the remanences of the past are a symbol of why he seeks redemption. Schrader’s use of nature and horticulture gives that feeling of re-growth within Narvel’s ark. The natural light and candid framing allow the narrative to breathe and unfold naturally. Like any Schrader film, that darker side lingers between the underbelly of it all. The further we dig into all of our protagonists, the more we learn that not everyone is perfect. There are similarities within the narrative structure with The Card Counter, but here you sense that Schrader has a more delicate balance.

The juxtaposing emotions of moral dilapidation and a yearning for tranquillity is potently strong from Schrader. Like his previous work, he makes no attempts for you to fully understand his leading men. Still, he wants you to consider how humans get into these situations and how we overcome our demons to achieve salvation. In our world today, the rise in right-wing ideologies has poisoned the minds of many, and Schrader attempts to show that there is a way out through rehabilitation. And yet, if the right people aren’t around us, the toxicity of this attempt at salvation can be tarnished.

Joel Edgerton delivers a mammoth performance for Paul Schrader. The show don’t tell approach gives so much depth to Narvel. While Edgerton doesn’t always get his day in cinema, Schrader’s trust in him to fully execute his vision is beyond comprehension. As you gaze into his eyes, you can feel his lust for acceptance and his past pain. Between Edgerton, Hawke and Issac, we have seen some of the finest performances in the 21st century and all of these were created by the great Paul Schrader. Master Gardener is another example of why we are unbelievably lucky to witness the artistry of Paul Schrader.

Lover of all things indie and foreign language. Can be found rambling on YouTube at times!

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