Review: Z for Zachariah (Sundance 2015)
PLOT: In an irradiated future, a lone survivor (Margot Robbie) finds herself torn between two surviving males, an intellectual (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who appeals to her emotionally, and a more rough-edged former miner (Chris Pine) who she's drawn to physically.
REVIEW: Z FOR ZACHARIAH may have the trappings of a genre film, but at its core it is a straight morality tale not all that different from director Craig Zobel's last film, COMPLIANCE. Sure, the stage is different, but the premise isn't really in that it has a lot to say about morality and the way we'd react if subjected to an extreme situation beyond our control. Granted, the situation here just so happens to be the apocalypse but like that film it's all about choices, and how much of a part our basest instincts play in the decision making.
In the world of Z FOR ZACHARIAH, mankind has already been swept away, with Robbie's character managing to survive by the skin of her teeth thanks to miraculously untouched valley she happens to live in, as opposed to the rest of the irradiated landscape. Her pious, lonely existence is shaken up by the arrival of Ejiofor's sickly intellectual, whose atheism challenges her devout religion, but to whom she's still drawn to, while he can't help but want to try and bring some semblance of civilization back to the world, with their main (highly symbolic) conflict being over his desire to tear down a church to build a primitive hydroelectric dam.
Much of the movie is devoted to Ejiofor and Robbie's burgeoning relationship, with her being much younger and far more sheltered than the worldly man who she's now living under the same roof with. The fact that Ejiofor is so good shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. It's a terrific, often ambiguous part that he plays wonderfully. But, the real revelation here is Robbie. Often cast as a sex-symbol on the basis of her looks, here Robbie's hair is dyed in some effort to deglamorize her (it only half works) but she's wonderful in the part, doing a good job with her southern accent, and excellently conveying a character that's clearly led an ultra sheltered life, but now has to totally fend for herself, and even physically care for the often sick Ejiofor.
Chris Pine actually makes his way into the film later than you'd think. He almost seems to be channeling Walton Goggins playing a kind of good-old-boy who's the brawn to Ejiofor's brain, but can't help but be appealing to Robbie for his strength and similar religious upbringing. The conflict between him and Ejiofor is subtler than you'd think, with both being ambiguous enough that you don't necessarily think Robbie would be better or worse off with either one. It's an interesting dynamic.
Given that the movie is confined to three characters, it can't help but be a little dry, but it's still engaging and helped along by the amazing visuals courtesy of Tim Orr (David Gordon Green's go-to dp) and the tremendous performances. It's probably going to play to a niche audience due to its total lack of action, but it's an interesting watch nonetheless, and a really great showcase for Robbie, who shows a lot of promise here.
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