At first glance, Campbell Scott’s minimalist drama “Final” is unremarkable. A film shot on a digital for just over $100,000, and adapted from a bland, one-act premise: a rebellious mental patient’s search for his past, with a remote therapist and the colder authority she represents. Immediately, the above should ring familiar bells of stories (“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”) that question basic standards of conduct. In this case, the standard being what is “crazy,” who is enforcing these definitions, and whether we should defiantly flick these authorities off.
Whatever its similarities to other tales, “Final” stars Denis Leary stars as Bill, a cranky rebel locked in a psychiatric ward dressed in sickly walls, reinforced glass, and silent orderlies. When awake (or unsedated), Bill passes time by pacing his room, looking out the window, and sparring with his young therapist Ann (Hope Davis).
In these sessions, Bill’s behavior is (predictably) erratic: at times lucid and charming, and at other times agitated and paranoid, whereas Ann’s nature marks a bureaucrat: cold and robotic, silently jotting notes while quizzing Bill on the year or who is president. But gradually, the two find connection, as Bill mines sunken images of his dying father and how he arrived at the hospital, just as Ann endures a family crisis of her own. All of which belies “Final’s” big twist ending, which unlike more spectacular curveballs in The Sixth Sense or “The Usual Suspects,” may be too subtle (and thus, unsatisfying) to connect with some audiences.
(To say more here risks Spoiler Territory, but let’s just say that “Final’s” hook reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)
As for “Final’s” technical details, the film’s acting is superb. Best known as a gritty wiseass, Denis Leary creates a fine dramatic performance as Bill, as does his co-star Hope Davis whose screen presence is glacial and entirely believable. Behind the lens, “Final” is marked by great editing, and Campbell Scott’s tight, capable direction. However, whether his film will appeal to wide audiences is (again) up for debate.
“Final” is a strong result on several primary levels, that’s not in doubt. Yet key questions over its grounding as a clear, engaging, and–most importantly–accessible story may prove it’s larger downfall.