After crashing a car under the influence of alcohol, Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) is admitted into rehab. A PTSD diagnosis forces him to examine the events of his childhood. He ruminates on his time spent as a child actor (Noah Jupe) in the care of his alcoholic and abusive father James (Shia LaBeouf).
There is no hiding the fact that in the past Shia LeBeouf has gone through phases of being the most annoying actor in Hollywood. Between dragging potential good films down or in the throws of public meltdowns, he was a tiresome reminder of the over-privileged nature that the system can produce. Or at least this is what I used to think, this film goes a long way to atone for his past and while not excusing his behaviour, it does at least put it in context.
His forays into performance art, no matter what you thought of them, were evidence that something was ticking away behind all the bluster, and what an absolute banger he has landed at our feet with this film. It is raw and honest, but with enough self-awareness to address the artifice that cinema brings. It is deeply layered and certainly more thoughtful than initial impressions may suggest.
The script was written by LaBeouf during a stay in rehab and it has a confessional element to it. Some people will be turned off by the metatextual elements but I think they are essential to drive the message of the film. It avoids a lot of the problems these movies tend to generate, that is to say it is not an exercise in navel-gazing. Exactly how this is achieved I’m not 100% but it feels like a mixture of thoughtfulness and instinct.
Even though LaBeouf is playing a version of his dad in the film, he is almost unrecognisable. The way that he inhabits the part is astounding, I really had no idea that he could act at this level. Almost everything he does and says just makes him out to be utter trash, but we come away feeling sorry for him. James has passed on rage and alcoholism onto his son, but although it is never delved into deeply you start to wonder what must have happened to him. Some dialogue is telling though, a family tree of broken people is hinted at.
Unsurprisingly, it really is an actors' film and Noah June is showing some really impressive chops. He is just at that perfect age to give us a sense of world-weariness with a child's innocence. Clearly, his life as a child actor gives him plenty to draw on.
It also does not reach for any easy answers. His dad is a completely awful person but still clearly loved, such can be family I suppose. It is sure to alienate plenty as there is no easy thread to hold onto but the magical realism that underpins everything means there is a beautiful logic to it all.