No real back story for how I came across this movie. I was just checking the weekly rounds of movies at my usual haunts, and saw this was going to be the flavor of the week. I honestly can’t say what the story is about. It looks like another one of those movies that’s supposed to be slower and smaller, just a little slice of what life is about and how it should be lived. Simple enough, I suppose, but something about this movie seems a little more sincere than something like A GHOST STORY (2017) and captivated me in its two and half minute trailer time. I guess it must be doing something right.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have John Cho (STAR TREK BEYOND , HAROLD & KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE , TV show FLASHFORWARD, and the as-of-yet-titled or announced release date, Star Trek sequel), Haley Lu Richardson (SPLIT  and THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN ), Parker Posey (CAFÉ SOCIETY , SUPERMAN RETURNS , JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS , and the upcoming TV reboot LOST IN SPACE ). In support, we have Rory Culkin (SCREAM 4 , DOWN IN THE VALLEY , and SIGNS ) and the criminally not-as-famous-as-she-should-be Michelle Forbes (The Hunger Games MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 , and TV shows TRUE BLOOD and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).
Now for the crew. Writing, editing, and directing is Kogonada, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Hammock. Any more crew members with single names working on this project, guys? Sure you don’t wanna throw in Madonna as a sound mixer or anything? Anywho, Hammock is also making his feature film debut. Also congrats, sir. Finally, the cinematographer is Elisha Christian, known for SAVE THE DATE (2012).
Overall, yeah, this could be a pretty solid film, so I’ll give it a shot.
This is my honest opinion of: COLUMBUS
After is father falls ill, Jin (John Cho) visits Columbus, Indiana to keep watch over him in case he wakes up or passes away. Before long, he meets a young woman named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), who has a deeply rooted passion for architecture and the two strike up a friendship as they learn about each other and their respective families.
I liked this a lot. A very introspective and soft movie for you poetic hearts out there.
I think the thing to keep in mind when viewing is that it’s a slow film. The focus is character building, so unless you’re a fan of Cho or have become a fan of Richardson like myself, then this might turn a lot of people off. But as far as all that goes, it’s a beautiful film. Cho plays Jin. He’s this guy who never quite saw eye-to-eye with his father who was a workaholic. It wasn’t anything dramatic, just a difference in opinions on life. But now that he’s looking after him while he’s on life support, he’s wrestling with his feelings about what the future holds for his father. He even goes on record to say that he might not even want his father to recover. I forget the particulars, and it’s certainly incredibly selfish and cruel of him to hope his father to die, and it’s not exactly something that makes you like Jin, but I keep in mind that he’s constantly conflicted about it. It’s not a definite spiteful hope. Okay, it’s spiteful, but it’s because all his life, Jin’s dad was pushing him in a direction he never wanted to go and their relationship had never quite patched up. He’s by no means a bad person. He’s just a guy trying to make his own way in the world without judgment from his family. Cho’s performance is laced with subtlety, arguably making this the best performance I’ve seen him deliver.
On the other side of the proverbial coin is Richardson as Casey. She’s this unbelievably bright and charming young girl with the potential up the wazoo. Unfortunately, we learn that her mother has suffered in the past and stays in Columbus to keep watch over her. She has an incredible passion for architecture, like Jin’s father. Character driven films aren’t always easily done. It’s way too easy to go for the extremes, like drunken father who beat his kid, or the rebellious son who thinks he’s going to be great, but is really just an entitled little shit, but that’s not what’s presented here. Everyone is just doing the best that they can with the hands that they’ve been dealt and that’s the best way to describe Casey. She’s had a rough few years, but she never lost her hunger for knowledge, nor her passion in the things that made her happy. But fear of the unknown and leaving behind all she’s ever known holds her back, even though she has the best of intentions in mind.
One of the best aspects that make Cho and Richardson great is the plentiful long takes. In many of the dialog scenes, there’s very few quick cuts, implying that the actors actually had to memorize their lines and the director was smart and kind enough to show off their talent. Hell, you could probably turn this into a stage play and it’d work just as beautifully. There’s other interesting details thrown in too. There’s small sequences where Jin is on the phone with someone and he’s speaking Korean. Thing is, there’s no subtitles. Yet, Cho’s delivery of his Korean lines are delivered so brilliantly that you don’t really care what he’s saying, but you can probably guess. His tone, his expressions, they all leave something to interpret. Hell, I’m pretty sure subtitles are only used once throughout the film and that was in the beginning. Pretty ballsy for a movie to do that. Respect, bro.
Side-stepping away from Cho and Richardson a bit is funny enough one of my favorite, yet brief characters in the movie, Culkin. Aside from how strikingly similar he looks to his child-star famous brother, Culkin was surprisingly really good. The guy’s obviously proven that he can act ever since he was a kid in SIGNS (2002). And like in that movie where he stole the show occasionally, he definitely does that here. Like Casey, Gabriel is a bookishly smart guy with possibly the hots for her. They have a charming relationship with each other as they bounce their intellect off of each other. A couple of scenes stand out. An old high school friend of Casey’s runs into her at the library where Casey works at and they start chatting. Her friend makes a comment about how guys in Columbus are weird or something and of course Gabriel overhears. Culkin’s comedic timing is absolutely priceless as he gives this glare that subtly whispers “bitch.”
There’s another scene where he and Casey are talking and they have a really poignant conversation that I think is the theme of the movie. He talks about this man and his son. The man is traditional and loves to read books and could read for hours, whereas his young son is more modern and loves video games and can play them for hours. The man tries to play the boy’s video game, but gets bored after only a few minutes. The boy tries to read a book, but gets bored as well. Initially, the man thought that the boy just had a short attention span. But then he flipped his idea around and thought that maybe that wasn’t accurate at all because if that were the case, how could the boy be playing video games for hours? It wasn’t a lack of focus, it was a lack of interest. Neither medium that the two tried provided an experience that they were looking for. Maybe the story of “attention versus interest” is obvious, but what I find brilliant is how well this is explored in the film and how well it pertains to Jin and his story arch.
While the film is wonderfully written, acted, and directed, there are a few things that I feel like go nowhere, or seemed odd. For one, I remember a weird bit where Casey is trying to get a hold of her mother, calling her at her work and what have you, but she never answers. We spend a few scenes with Casey playing private eye and trying to find out why she’s been avoiding her. This is left completely unresolved, wholly ignored later on in the movie, and is never referenced again. If so much time wasn’t devoted to these scenes and such emphasis on Casey worrying about her mom, I wouldn’t make a huge deal out of it, but… yeah, it was weird to have a subplot like that mean nothing. I’m also not sure what the significance was with Jin’s crush on his dad’s… wife? Assistant? It never really affected the story either in any meaningful way. It’s certainly alluded to, but it also doesn’t really go anywhere. Also, the movie was pretty obsessed with these far away shots; showing something at a distance. I’m sure it was supposed to say something and add to the poetry of the movie, but when characters are having a conversation, the cinematography would get in the way. I’d rather see the actors’ faces when they talk instead of a long-ass series of rows of library books.
But these are all very small problems to an otherwise extremely well-done movie. Pitch perfect acting, impressive direction and writing, it’s a great accomplishment for Kogonada. Here’s hoping to see a bigger project from him the future and to see what else he can do. I may not have a shot of vodka in front of me, but here’s to brilliant performances from both Cho and Richardson, and a second invisible shot to Culkin. For God’s sake boy, get some fame on you! Or… if this low-key “at your own pace” style works for you, then ignore me. Just be happy. It’s a pretty limited release, so I’m not sure how many theaters will be playing this, but I do give this is a recommendation. It’s a beautiful slice of life and shouldn’t be missed out.
My honest rating for COLUMBUS: a strong 4/5