A road trip movie, of sorts, The Strange Ones follows Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) as they hop from place to place, trying to stay under the radar. Then their car breaks down near a small town, and they hole up in a hotel for a few days, waiting for it to be fixed. The movie then follows them getting to know the people in the town and the complications that crop up because Sam tells everyone Nick is a liar. Nick tries to do damage control from a distance, as the layers of why they are on the lam are revealed.
Most of the movie is excellent, though two scenes, in particular, meander a bit. Sam’s first substantial conversation with Kelly (Emily Althaus), the hotel employee, goes on well past the point of the scene, to where it seems odd she doesn’t sense things are off. The other is when Sam and Sarah (Olivia Wang) are discussing what the cops wanted with her and what she told them about Sam and Nick. While that sounds like relevant information, the heart of the moment is about their classmates and a revelation that comes from what they think about these two friends. The rest is a rehash of information the viewer has already gleaned. These are small issues overall, as the characters are interesting and the last five to six minutes are enthralling.
“…forces the audience to think through everything they saw.”
A twist, reveal, shock or surprise ending can enhance the viewing experience of a movie, especially when it is not only memorable but adds depth to the characters and encapsulates the themes without sacrificing story elements. On the rare occasion, the twist ties everything in the movie together and gives it a purpose that was not evident until the finale. First-time feature-length co-writers and co-directors Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein have crafted a slow burn drama, which forces the audience to think through everything they saw once the conclusion unfolds. The two writers had a clear idea of where they wanted all the characters to wind up at the end, and this translates into well defined and engaging roles. Each person feels fully formed and genuine, which preserves the drama’s authenticity.
I just watched the movie and thought the acting was top drawer ! However, it doesn’t develop the relatoionship between Sams dad and Nick. We are only given that they knew each other as neighbors, but nothing else. Was their friendship more involved than just being neighbors, or something more intimate? I ask, because he (the dad) lets Nick become a ‘baby sister’ to Sam, a trust that could only be based on a closer friendship.Also, the scene (flash back)where he unlocks Sam bedroom door and asks him to talk to him. Did he lock Sam in the room to prevent him from going over to Nicks? It appears that his daad suspects that there is something going on between Sam and Nick, so he is trying to restrict Sam in his contacts with Nick, therefore his (Sams )hatred of his dad is the result of these restrictions? It seems odd that a father would let an adult male be a babysitter to a teenage boy without knowing more about him–so, this goes back to how well he knew Nick to trust him for this responsibility? (Just watched it again and thorough it seemed to clear up some questions in my mind, it still is unclear (to me) what was bothering Sam, as he seemed to be in a kind of a trance, not fully aware of what’s going on! Some other questions: what about his mother? apparently, he lived with her as he mentions he was involved with Nick when he moved there 2 years before (his father’s house). Also, is Sam gay and maybe initiated the relationship with bi-sexual (it hints he is?) Nick? Much information is missing on the characters to come to a conclusion on who they are!)
The acting by Alex Pettyfer was mysterious and nerve-wracking. Trying to figure out the ambiguity of these two was mind-boggling. James Freedson-Jackson makes evil manipulation look easy. Great acting from both actors and an absolute mind-bending journey.
This film is getting bad reviews, but only because it is challenging. It is a film that works, and is definitely worth seeing by anyone with patience to absorb a slow burn thriller.
Part of its magic is its ambiguity. I’m not as sure as the reviewer that the film’s twists add up to a single, complete set of definite facts. I think part of the discomfort the film produces for many in the audience is the way it resists any definite interpretation. I’ve seen in many reviews simple factual mistakes that allow the reviewer to complete their interpretation. But the film is more challenging than that. I think it tells a story, but exactly which parts are true are not so firmly established. And yet the feeling, at the end, is less unambiguous: a hard-won, almost impossible-seeming sympathy.
I think this is an excellent film, with a few blemishes, like a couple brown spots on a very tasty apple. It does not deserve the rough reviews it is getting at all.
And the performance by James Freedson-Jackson is career making. People in the industry are not going to overlook this one.