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Review: The Discovery starring Jason Segel & Rooney Mara

The Discovery starring Jason Segel & Rooney Mara
03.30.2017
100%
8 10
THE DISCOVERY was previously reviewed as part of our 2017 Sundance coverage. 

PLOT: A scientist (Robert Redford) is able to prove the existence of the afterlife, a discovery that leads to millions of suicides all over the globe. Years later, his son (Jason Segel) returns home with a mysterious woman (Rooney Mara), and both find themselves drawn into his father’s new project, which promises a glimpse into this newly-confirmed afterlife.

REVIEW: Sundance 2017 may well go down as the festival where Netflix finally stepped up their feature slate in a big way. One of the common complaints is that even good Netflix originals, like PEE WEE’S HOLIDAY, don’t feel like legitimate films, lacking a certain production value. With both festival sleeper I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THE WORLD ANYMORE and now Charlie McDowell’s ambitious THE DISCOVERY, the service can safely brag that they’re making full-on features comparable to what any other indie studio is doing.

THE DISCOVERY is certainly their most ambitious film to date, and if they hadn’t picked it up it’s the kind of fare a studio like A24 might have gotten behind. Best appreciated on the big screen despite the fact that no one will see it that way (it premieres directly on the service at the end of March), this is a thought-provoking, if imperfect sci-fi drama that justifies the marquee cast. Certainly McDowell, in his second feature (following the micro-budget THE ONE I LOVE) seems comfortable working with a large canvas and likely isn’t far-off from establishing himself as an A-list director.

Many filmmakers have gone on record saying Netflix grants them carte-blanche, and this is reflected by the fact that THE DISCOVERY, while a strong effort, sometimes feels like three movies shoehorned into one. The most prominent thread involves Jason Segel’s character, a neurologist tortured by the guilt of having helped his father prove the existence of an afterlife, a fact that’s led to mass suicides. He returns home to confront his father, only to be drawn into the old man’s new project, which is designed to record images of the afterlife so people can now know where they’re going.

This is the sci-fi thread, but at the same time, it’s a relationship drama, with Segel’s having a romance with a suicidal young woman (Rooney Mara) who gets drawn into Redford’s work. This leads into the third plot, which has Redford leading a defacto island cult of suicide survivors - and it’s this part that never really works. When playing an obsessed scientist/dad, Redford is perfect. But, moments where he’s supposed to impose his will, such as a confrontation with one of his disciples, played by Riley Keough, don’t play to his strengths and comes-off as forced. This part of the movie could have been cut way back.

Nonetheless, the rest of THE DISCOVERY is pretty terrific. While Jason Segel is still an unconventional leading man, especially when playing it completely straight (as he does here - rarely cracking a smile), there’s something compelling about him that makes his casting work. Mara is extremely likable as his complicated love interest, a woman eager to cast-off her existence and somehow pay penance for a minor lapse in judgment that had horrible consequences. Jesse Plemons also has a strong part as Segel’s brother, a more devoted disciple of their father’s, with him almost channeling a young Philip Seymour Hoffman here.

The craft behind the film is impeccable as well, with the beautiful lensing by Sturla Brandth Grovlen (VICTORIA) making it a real shame this won’t be seen theatrically outside of small runs. While it’s maybe trying to do too much at times, this is still sci-fi at its most ambitious and certainly something that offers the viewer a lot to chew on. When this pops up in your cue, you’d be well-advised to check it out.

Source: JoBlo.com

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9:06AM on 01/23/2017
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