Armory Films/Lucky Treehouse/Bona Fide Productions/Endeavor Content/Roadside Attractions
Directed and Written by Tyler Nilson/Michael Schwartz
Produced by Albert Berger/Christopher Lemole/Lije Sarki/David Theis/Ron Yerxa/
Music by Zachary Dawes/Noam Pikelny/Jonathan Sadoff/Gabe Witcher
Cinematography by Nigel Bluck
Edited by Kevin Tent/Nathaniel Fuller
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is in his 20s yet lives in a state-run facility for the elderly as he has Down’s Syndrome and according to his caretaker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) there is nowhere else to place him. Zak has no friends or family save for his roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) who helps Zak escape from the facility.
Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is struggling to find direction in his life after the death of his brother Mark (Jon Bernthal) Caught poaching crab pots, he’s fired from his job and is forced to go on the run, pursued by some really angry guys whose gear he torched. Through a set of circumstances I would not dare reveal here, Zak and Tyler meet up and go on the road together to fulfill Zak’s dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Zak is obsessed with The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church) and the two of them take to the road for North Carolina and the wrestling school of The Saltwater Redneck, which in Zak’s mind is akin to Mount Olympus.
It’s a movie that has been described as a modern retelling of “Huckleberry Finn” and I can see that as well as bits and pieces of “Of Mice and Men” but the difference here is in the earnest, honest performance of Zack Gottsagen who is essentially playing himself. But he acquits himself better here than a lot of so-called professional actors who are supposed to know their craft. The honesty of the screenplay when it comes to Zak’s character as well as Gottsagen’s performance is such that Zak doesn’t come off as a young man with a disability. Instead he seems to be tuned into an entirely different way of perceiving the world as if he’s receiving wavelengths the rest of us aren’t while at the same time, there’s some he’s not getting.
Shia LaBeouf has come a long way since his career in the early 2000s when Hollywood seemed hellbent on insisting that we love him as they tried their damndest to convince us he was the next big action hero. To be honest, anybody could have played Sam Witwicky in those “Transformers” movies since the humans hardly mattered anyway and the less said about his role in “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” the better. But he turns in a performance here that I really enjoyed. There’s a real affection in how he and Zak develop a friendship. One that is tested when Eleanor catches up to them and all three of the characters have to make real decisions on the direction their lives are going to go.
Sometimes you just want a movie to make you feel good and give you optimism in the goodness of your fellow human beings and THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON delivers on that. It’s a leisurely road movie that grows on you the longer you watch it. It certainly grew on me. By the time Zak, Tyler and Eleanor reach the wrestling school (where you should keep your eyes sharp for one-time professional wrestler Mick Foley and Jake “The Snake” Roberts) I was invested in these characters and really wanted to see how their story turned out. With the theaters closed this year due to Covid-19, friends and family are always asking me to recommend movies and I’m delighted to be able to recommend this one. Now, you may not be a Shia LeBeouf fan but give this movie a try and I think you’ll be as surprised by his performance as I was. And Zack Gottsagen is going to utterly charm you, I guarantee.
THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Epix