Is it a crime to give a person who has absolutely no hope a little glimmer of possibility? If so, what should the punishment be for ultimately letting that person down? Should one seek revenge on a person who is trying to “do the right thing” but fails? Is it right to call yourself a savior or an avenger when you believe in God and know that only God can truly apply those titles? These are just a few of the heady questions posed in the outstanding indie feature “Godspeed,” a film that holds nothing back in it’s stark portrayals of men dealing with heavy loss.
In the film we meet Charlie (McKelheer), a nice enough seeming guy who also happens to be a healer. Or at least he was a healer. Now it seems like his better days of saving the sick may be behind him. He lives in beautiful yet rural Alaska with his pretty wife Rebecca (Ward) and their young son. While the couple seems to have had some difficulties in the past, they’re making a go of what would appear to be a new life. That is until Luke (Knauf) and Tim (Beals) arrive in town. From there, things go South and it’s not an exaggeration to say they go as far South as hell.
“Godspeed” isn’t the kind of film that fucks around, and I mean that on every level. It’s intense, brutal, intriguing and expertly executed. I see a ton of indie films each year and of the five or six that stick out and hang with me far after the credits roll, I can tell now that “Godspeed” will be one of those. It’s easily one of the best indie films of the year. Before you accuse me of hyperbole, allow me to share what this film has going for it.
First off, the film looks amazing. Beautifully shot, the backdrop of Alaska shimmers in a springtime glow which makes the intensity on the screen a strange, but interesting parallel. Second, the acting is incredible. While McKelheer’s Charlie is a man quietly, yet intensely struggling within himself at what life means his foe, Knauf’s Luke, outwardly smolders with unbridled anger as he slowly but clearly devolves into madness. Both of the performances are balls-out brilliant and I think Knauf has what they term a “star making role” in this film. Yet the glue that holds the battle of these two men is Luke’s sweet and angelic sister Sarah (Halverson) who adds some humanity to a downright brutal film as she tries to reconcile the relationship between the existentially damaged Charlie and the dangerously twisted Luke.
While at first Halverson may seem like your average run-of-the-mill “Gossip Girl” type twenty-something, her subtle performance is what adds a sense of humanity to what could have been an exercise in male rage and revenge. She’s a very good actress and I expect to see some big things from her in the future. Also living in the gray area between two intense men is Luke’s right-hand man Tim (Beals) whose eyes say it all as he grapples with doing what Luke says and doing the right thing. In fact every actor in this film is terrific and each is completely believable in their role.
I must admit that I found some plot points not fleshed out enough and some choices and character arcs a bit confusing. These aren’t the kinds of hiccups in the film that totally draw you out of the viewing experience or make you throw up your hands and walk away, but they’re there. If anything, I think the filmmakers had so many great ideas, they ran out of space to fit them all in. For instance there’s a scene involving Charlie crossing lines and verses out of the bible he finds false and it’s awesome stuff. Then, it’s never really brought up again and it should have been. But at the end of the day, I guess needing more of a cool idea is a better problem to have then being beaten over the head with a lame one.
Still, “Godspeed” flat out works. Director Robert Saitzyk shows he’s got a terrific eye and the performances he coaxes from everyone in the film prove he can handle actors in some fairly powerful roles. The screenplay, which appears to be a partnership between Saitzyk, Knauf and McKelheer, never seems to lose its way even though we’re dealing with people who all have very difficult character arcs. It’s always a nice surprise to see a really small, but truly great film and “Godspeed” fits that description.