Tuesday , May 28 2024
Judy Greer, 'Eric LaRue'
Judy Greer in 'Eric LaRue' (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival).

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Eric LaRue,’ Starring Judy Greer, Alexander Skarsgård

Stunning performances ground Michael Shannon’s directorial debut, Eric LaRue, a Tribeca Film Festival 2023 Spotlight Narrative film. An adaptation of Brett Neveu’s play (2002), it focuses on a mother, Janice (Judy Greer), struggling to cope after her teenage son murders three classmates.

Shannon vitally highlights many salient themes. He raises penetrating questions about the situations in the film that have currency for us today. With understatement he reveals the unspeakable toll of gun violence. Not only does it impact the lives of families and the communities where they live. In this poignant and human story, Shannon depicts how Eric’s actions impact his parents. Also, we note how rival religious churches handle the families and this horrific situation. Shannon approaches the complex issues with sensitivity and cinematic acumen.

Eric LaRue – and His Parents

Parents Ron and Janice LaRue also grieve and mourn, a perspective rarely considered. The LaRues must endure the knowledge of Eric’s identity as a murderer. Regardless of the posturings of the town’s rival church pastors, they must answer for Eric’s actions. Metaphorically, Eric “murdered” their family, and the sanctity, security and peace of their lives. But unlike the mothers whose sons died, Janice’s son Eric lives. What right have his parents to grieve? Even though he molders away, imprisoned in a living death, no one in the community empathizes with the LaRues’ loss.

Indeed, the community lays the blame for Eric’s actions at their doorstep. From a peaceful religious upbringing, these churchgoers spawned a killer. They can’t escape accountability. As Janice and Ron attempt to restore a former normality to their lives, the community responds with enforced hesitancy. Ironically, religion and two rival pastors offer the only way back into the fold of human embrace.

Director Michael Shannon at a Q&A at Tribeca Film Festival after the screening of his debut film Eric LaRue (courtesy of Carole Di Tosti)

Ron leaps at the opportunity extended to him to attend a zealous evangelical church. However, it differs from his former, staid First Presbyterian church. Janice, on the other hand, can’t “turn to Jesus.” Infuriated with and overwhelmed by Eric, the hapless situation she finds herself in has little to do with God.

Highlighting the murderer’s parents in the aftermath of the horror, Shannon configures a raw drama. The powerful portrayals by Judy Greer and Alexander Skarsgård make it all the more searing. Exceptional, authentic, spot-on, the actors inhabit the ethos of Janice and Ron. They reveal the disparate, solitary paths each takes. Though they live in the same space, they don’t communicate with emotional depth. Individually, they select what they need to get to the next day. This results in an increasing isolation between them.

“Don’t Blame?”

Janice’s struggles worsen throughout the film. Unable to enter Eric’s room for months to clean it after police arrested him, she lives in a daze. Dislocated from friends, community and her workplace, she suffers in silence. Finally, she musters the courage to go shopping. When she runs into First Presbyterian Pastor Steve Calhan (the excellent Paul Sparks), he makes kind small talk. Gently, he encourages her to visit him at their church to help her “move on.”

When she does, he persuades her to have a sit-down with the mothers of the slain teenagers. Ironically, from his perspective, he believes this meeting represents a watershed moment of healing. Instead, the meeting has the opposite effect. Sadly, no understanding or acceptance of Janice’s anger and grief occurs. One of the mothers still in shock over the murder appears medicated and “out of it.” Understandably, the other mother condemns and vilifies Janice. Pastor Calhan’s remonstrances of “don’t blame” fall on deaf ears.

After Janice returns to work at a retail outfit, an explosive incident occurs. A customer intentionally provokes her about buying one of the many guns for sale. As a result, her boss suggests an extension on her former leave of absence. He explains that her presence may give occasion for public provocation and a loss of business. Probably, years will pass before the community “forgives and forgets” the LaRues, whom they secretly hold accountable for Eric’s violence.

Jesus Saves?

For his part, Ron avoids considering the ramifications of guilt, blame and accountability. Ron’s HR manager (the terrific Alison Pill) repeatedly drives him to church. Ironically, despite the conflict of interest, Ron, attracted to her emotionally, “heals.” After Ron receives Jesus, the slyly despotic pastor (Tracy Letts) convinces Ron to get Janice to attend. Refusing to accept Jesus, whom Ron insists will “take her burdens,” Janice responds with anger and near violence.

Because Presbyterian Pastor Steve suggests it, she visits Eric (Nation Sage Henrikson in another terrific performance). With vehemence Eric rejects her “understanding” and “excuses” for his violence. When he tells her never to visit again, Janice leaves bereft of emotion. With Janice having nowhere to turn and no answers for what she feels, the film concludes with a powerful visual symbol.

With appropriate music playing, she “walks away,” down a white, sandy road into the distance as the credits roll. Yet she can’t walk away from Eric’s murders. Their religion, which blinks at owning weapons of war, offers repentance and prayer when humans with or without Jesus in their hearts use them to kill. The film reveals the dissonance between the culture of Christianity and the right to bear arms.

The complications Shannon offers, the performances and ensemble work, make this a must-see. Look for the film on streaming sites after its Tribeca Film Festival presentation ends. For Tribeca tickets visit the website.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' (https://caroleditosti.com/) 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

Check Also

Afire, Silver Berlin Bear, Berlin International Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘Afire,’ a Superb Film

When Leon and Felix go to the beach house on the Baltic sea to work and swim, their plans are interrupted by Nadja, who unsettles Leon and turns his world upside down.