Review by James Lindorf
Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) was a rising football star in the state of Louisiana. A small-town high school legend at quarterback who earned a full scholarship to LSU. Instead of returning home as the conquering hero, he returns as a convicted felon who spent the last 12 years in state prison. Life is hard for an ex-con, especially in a small town. Palmer’s life has been on hold for more than a decade. Former neighbors are more likely to shy away or whisper behind his back than say hello, and finding work, is a bit of a nightmare. What Palmer does have is his loving, god-fearing grandmother Vivian (June Squibb). One change, while he was away, is that Vivian allowed Shelly (Juno Temple) and her young son, Sam (Ryder Allen), to move their trailer to her property. Sam is left in Vivian and Palmer’s care when Shelly disappears for a prolonged bender without a word of when, or if, she would be back it. Sam teaches Palmer to give the acceptance he is seeking from others. Things do get better for Palmer, but it isn’t long before his violent past threatens everything. If he can’t control his rage, he will lose his new job, a budding romance with Sam’s teacher Maggie (Alisha Wainwright), and his makeshift family. “Palmer” is currently streaming on AppleTV+.
“Palmer” is all heart, but that heart is studded with razor blades. It is hard watching people be mistreated for who they are or not be given a second chance. Still, “Palmer” is all about discovering that acceptance, love, and family can come from unusual places. Director Fisher Stevens and writer Cheryl Guerriero don’t delve too deep into Palmer’s emotions or mindset. Instead, Palmer is left to wallow in stoicism, frustration, or anger for most of the film. Timberlake got a chance to play a good character and gives a very good performance. He probably won’t be up for any awards, but “Palmer” shows his range and maybe the best thing to happen to his career since he brought sexy back.
Stevens’ direction and Tobias A. Schliessler’s cinematography reflect the characters’ attitudes in the film’s look. Early on when centered entirely on Palmer, the film is drab like the rain cloud hanging over his head is also hanging over the film. When Sam is thrust into his life, it introduces things like laughter and happiness, which are reflected in the colorful outfits and toys that Sam is partial to. Despite being constantly bullied and abandoned by his mother, Sam is happy and quick to love. He serves as the film’s literal and figurative bright spot. Because this is Ryder’s first significant performance, it is hard to say if good direction made him comfortable enough on set to play himself. Or if this was one of the top10, maybe even top 5 child performances, I can remember. A lot is going on with Sam, and Ryder makes me believe every bit of it. The clue that it may be coming from the page is just how well adjusted he is. It is hard to imagine most kids would be so emotionally healthy after everything he has gone through.
“Palmer” isn’t going to break any new ground, but like a cliché not actually in the movie says, sometimes it is about the journey and not the destination. Guerriero captured the generational fight that is going on between closed-minded good ole boys and the youth that want to be loved for who they are no matter what that means. Palmer’s old friends and the mean kids at school represent the traditionalist approach, and Sam is the bright new age unafraid to be different. Palmer, he’s in the middle, not condemning, not completely understanding, but most importantly, he is willing to listen and learn.
Yes, the plot is too predictable for such a well-worn premise. However, “Palmer’s” unique emotional core and message put it a step beyond most of its competition and puts it upfront among the best properties available on AppleTV+.
Original Language: English
Director: Fisher Stevens
Producer: Charlie Corwin, Sidney Kimmel, Daniel Nadler, John Penotti, Charles B. Wessler
Writer: Cheryl Guerriero
Release Date (Streaming): Jan 29, 2021
Runtime: 1h 51m
Production Co: Rhea Films (II), Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, SK Global, Hercules Film Fund
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