A gem of a film that explores race relations, genetic fate and the allure of family, Neo Ned is a quality feat of filmmaking. Take a basic premise of two people falling love, add that they both met in a mental institution and then further mix it up by making one a white racist skinhead and the other an African American woman who thinks she’s channeling the soul of Hitler, and you’ve got one Hell of a film. The kind of film that could really go south quick if any aspect is lacking.
Luckily, that’s not the case. The acting is top-notch, as Jeremy Renner’s skinhead Ned is played less with the stereotypical hateful racist sneer and more with the ADHD charm of someone who joined a club just to be a part of something and doesn’t really comprehend what’s right or wrong with that choice. Only when forced to come to grips with his romantic feelings towards his supposed enemy, Gabrielle Union’s Rachael, does he finally begin to question his life. And holding up the other end of the film is Gabrielle Union’s performance. Union’s Rachael has finally let the cracks show, and when it has overwhelmed her to the point of convincing her that Hitler’s hanging out inside her body, you can’t help but feel for her. At the same time, the strength it takes for her to move forward and eventually make the ultimate decision she has to make is uncommon in a character seemingly so vulnerable.
It’s very rare that you can feel that a film has a strong directorial hand (“feel,” not “notice,” which is a BIG difference). Most times it seems like the actors are just doing their thing, whatever that is, and some guy or girl is just off camera happy that they got the lines right, or that the shot was framed a certain way. Neo Ned, however… not only are the performances stellar, even from the smaller roles like Ned’s mother played by Sally Kirkland to the psychiatrist portrayed by Cary Elwes (who proves here that he’s not just the scene-chewing goof he recently portrayed in Saw), but you feel a strong directorial voice guiding them. We’ve seen all these actors perform in the past, we know what they’ve been capable of and they all elevate their game with this one and I can only imagine that it’s due to Van Fischer’s directorial influence. In that aspect the film becomes a worthy study for film students as well as a solid film.
Neo Ned is rare in today’s independent film world in that it is a very unique take on the concept of love and family. Never boring, never pretentious, never preachy, Neo Ned could find its place alongside some of the great independent romance films of all time, if enough people are able to catch a glimpse of it.