Oliver Sherman ***
Directed by: Ryan Redford.
Written By: Ryan Redford based on the short story by Rachel Ingalls.
Starring: Garret Dillahunt (Sherman Oliver), Molly Parker (Irene Page), Donal Logue (Franklin Page), Fiona Highet (Joan), Duane Murray (Glen), Kaelan Meunier (Jacob Page).
Garrtet Dillahunt is one of those actors that everyone recognizes, but still cannot quite place him. He was one of the cannibals in The Road, the Sheriff in Winter’s Bone, Tommy Lee Jones’s sidekick in No Country for Old Men, the leader of the gang in Last House on the Left and will be seen in the upcoming John Sayles movie Amigo as a soldier – but he has been in a lot of movies and TV shows. His lazy Southern drawl makes him excel at playing hicks and hillbillies, but very rarely does he take the easy way out and make them laughable. He is one of those actors that I immediately take note of every time I see him.
In the new film Oliver Sherman, Dillahunt finally has a lead role – he is the title character, although his real name is Sherman Oliver, not Oliver Sherman. When he was in the army he got shot in the head, and spent time in the hospital afterwards, where a nurse reversed his names, and he didn’t know it for a year – because he didn’t know who he was. It has been seven years since he got out of the army after the war – what war is never mentioned, but it really could be any war, there is very little that defines what time period this movie is taking place in. One day, he simply shows up on the doorstep of Franklin Page (Donal Logue) who was the soldier that saved his life by risking his own all those years ago. Franklin drifted for a while after the war, found himself in this small town, fell in love with Irene (Molly Parker) and decided to settle down. He seems happy now – he has put the past behind him. This is something Sherman cannot do. He has drifted this entire time, and we get a sense that in Franklin he sees who he wants to be – and this is perhaps his last chance to be healthy.
Franklin takes pity on Sherman – and allows him to stay with him and his family. At first, Irene feels sorry for Sherman as well, but as time goes on, and her husband starts drinking more and more, and the darkness in Sherman becomes all too apparent, she wants him gone. Franklin cannot do that though – he saved his life, and now feels responsible for it.
Oliver Sherman is a quiet movie – a much more quiet movie than I expected. You get the sense of impending violence from the beginning of the film. Dillahunt gives a great performance as Sherman, who seems like a wounded, yet dangerous puppy – you want to take care of him even when you know its most likely a mistake. He is a man living in the past, and has no way of getting over it. Donal Logue gives another subtle performance – one that only hints at the person he used to be, and the person Sherman is trying to get him to be once again. Sherman sees Irene as competition – but she isn’t, because she has won a long time ago. Parker is good as the patient wife, who finally gets fed up. This is essentially a three person movie – with Dillahunt’s Sherman testing the strength of the other two people – pushing them as far as he can take them.
Oliver Sherman feels like a movie lost from the 1970s. The war could easily be Vietnam, and we saw this type of film often then – films about veterans coming back from the war and not being able to get over it. The film doesn’t reinvent this genre at all, but does what it does well, anchored on its strong, quiet performances. Writer/director Ryan Redford found the right actors for his movie – a somber experience that ends just as it must.