From writer/director Emanuele Della Valle, Wetlands is the story of a disgraced police detective Babel Johnson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) with a past looking to start over and find redemption in the wetlands community outside of Atlantic City. For Johnson, the wetlands are his last chance as a police detective and his last chance to reconnect with his daughter, Amy (Celeste O’Connor). Amy lives in the wetlands with her mother and Babel’s ex-wife Savannah (Heather Graham).
Finding a clean start is never easy in movies. Johnson was hired by the police force to redeem him from his past. He was hired because of his past. Johnson’s reception on the force is cold. His fellow officers don’t like strangers interfering with the status quo. Johnson’s new partner, Paddy Sheehan (Christopher McDonald) quickly befriends Johnson and introduces him to his newscaster wife, Kate Buchannan (Jennifer Ehle). Kate is slowly being nudged away from the anchor desk by younger, more attractive talent.
“…a disgraced police detective with a past looking to start over and find redemption in the wetlands community outside of Atlantic City.”
Johnson’s daughter, Amy, wants nothing to do with her father since he disappeared for a few years. Babel explains that he was trying to get clean from heroin. Amy’s relationship with her mother, Savannah is also strained. Amy’s only friend comes from Buttercup (Lauren LaVera), who is Savannah’s lover. She is also in deep with the local mob. Her boss is Jimmy (Louis Mustillo) and Buttercup cuts and distributes Heroine for Jimmy. Johnson begins to investigate Jimmy, not necessarily for justice, but the fact that the situation endangers Amy.
Oh, let’s not forget to throw Hurricane Suzy into the third act. In this storm of characters, plots, and sub-plots, there’s only one story we care about that that’s Johnson’s struggle to reconnect with his daughter. Wetlands is not a story of a father’s taking control of his situation for the better, but how the situation foils the well-intentioned plans of Johnson. We’re basically watching karma beat the hell out of our hero. It’s like staring at a box full of wind-up toys. The toys interact and bump into each other, but none of these actions work together to tell a meaningful or even interesting story. It all just happens.
Wetlands is full of top-notch actors. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a sympathetic hero. You feel sorry for Babel, and you root for him to come out on top. Christopher McDonald and Heather Graham also give strong performances. McDonald masterfully walks the line between good cop/bad cop. Even great acting cannot save an uninspired story with plot holes.
“We’re basically watching karma beat the hell out of our hero.”
One thing about Wetlands has also been bothering me. The film opens with narration from Buttercup. She explains life on the wetlands and its significance to the story. This is unnecessary. There’s also a piece of narration that is played over a conversation between Babel and Kate, which feels like it was placed there because the footage was unusable. Since Buttercup was not in that scene, why is she commenting on it? And then the narration ends mid-way through the film. It seems like the narration was used to fix problems in post.
Wetlands (2017) Written and directed by Emanuele Della Valle. Starring Heather Graham, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Ehle, Christopher McDonald, Celeste O’Connor.
2 out of 5