Movie Short Review: ‘The Letter Room’

Greetings again from the darkness. Richard is a prison guard whose ambitions and progressive ideas have his sights set on a promotion off the daily grind of the cold corridors … despite an amiable personality that has him as a likable guy amongst the prison workers and the prisoners. In fact, it’s that friendliness that drives the warden (Eileen Galindo) to move Richard to the mail room. She presents this as a promotion by bestowing upon him the title of Director of Prisoner Communication.

Oscar Isaac plays Richard in this Oscar nominated short film written and directed by his real life wife, Elvira Lind (BOBBI JENE, 2017). Isaac gives a strong performance and makes Richard a relatable guy – one that seems cheery enough with co-workers, while then going home to watch TV with his dog after warming up leftovers. With a new job that entails scanning incoming and outgoing mail for threats and contraband, Richard is touched by the personal love letters received by Cris (Brian Petsos), one of the death row inmates. Richard is miffed as to why Cris never responds to Rosita (the always interesting Alia Shawkat) and takes it upon himself to find out more … and yes, this is totally outside the scope of his job.

It may seem odd for a prison to generate warm emotions, but that’s part of the brilliance of Ms. Lind’s excellent script. In a world where we are currently struggling to find signs of compassion and common courtesy, we watch as this prison guard tries to make things a little better … and on top of that, interjecting subtle moments of humor add even more of a human touch, while the attention to detail takes us even deeper. This is an excellent story, and in 33 minutes, this world – quite foreign to most of us – becomes something we understand. And it’s achieved through the eyes of a lonely guy just trying to do the right thing.

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