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The Independent Critic

Ashton Sanders, Tishuan Scott, Keston John, Bill Oberst Jr., Christine Horn
Chris Eska
92 Mins.


 "The Retrieval" a Rare Gem Among Indie Historical Dramas 
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One of the 2013 Heartland Film Festival's more unexpected gems, Chris Eska's The Retrieval is a rare and shining example of an indie historical drama that actually works both in terms of historical accuracy and in terms of its impact as an intelligent and heartfelt drama.

Will (Ashton Sanders) is a young orphan boy growing up in Texas in the latter half of the 19th century guided by his uncle Marcus (Keston John), a no nonsense bounty hunter for whom survival is often in conflict with any heart-centered notions about family or loyalty. Burrell (Bill Oberst, Jr.) is the leader of the bounty gang, a man whose loyalty is only bound by his desire for a profit as Marcus tricks and betrays runaway slaves in order that Burrell can capture them. One day, Marcus and Will are tasked with retrieving Nate (Tishuan Scott), said to be a hardened criminal. When the two finally encounter Nate, Will's instinct tells him something different and he senses that, perhaps, this is a man closer to the kind of man that he would like to be. As the circumstances evolve, choices will need to be made and Will's journey into becoming a young man will involve what could best be described as period appropriate and unforgettable life lessons about hope, loyalty, loss, and much more.

The Retrieval is a low-key gem and yet it is one of the better historical dramas that Heartland has presented in recent years. Eska is reported to have utilized Civil War reenactors who were of tremendous benefit in creating an authentic production design and costume design while working within the confines of a lower-budgeted indie film.

It also helps that The Retrieval features a uniformly strong ensemble cast including an acclaimed performance from Tishuan Scott. Scott picked up the "Breakthrough Performance" Award at SXSW and the film picked up prizes at Phoenix Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, and Deauville Film Festival among others. Ashton Sanders gives a confident yet vulnerable performance as Will, while Keston John convinces as Marcus. Bill Oberst Jr., widely known for his work in indie horror, was an inspired choice for the critical role of Burrell and he certainly makes the most of it.

Yasu Tanida's lensing is absolutely mesmerizing, no small accomplishment shooting many dark scenes that can prove to be challenging for an indie film. Tanida's work gives the film what at times feels like an additional character, at times intimate and at times unnerving. The original score by Matthew Wiedemann and original score by Yellow 6 complements the film to extraordinary effect.

For more information on The Retrieval, visit the film's website. While a home video distribution has yet to be announced, one can only hope that in a cinematic year that has seen such fine works as 12 Years a Slave and Lee Daniels' The Butler that this film will get the attention it deserves.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic