If it weren’t for12 Years a Slave, The Retrieval might have looked pretty good, considering its low budget. Unfortunately for The Retrieval, in this season it suffers by comparison.
DFF 36 (2013)
- 36th Starz Denver Film Festival : Our overview of the 2013 festival
- Sex, Drugs, & Taxation
- If You Build It
- Walesa: Man of Hope
- The Armstrong Lie
- Paradise: Hope
- Brave Miss World
- Uranium Drive-In
- The Girl from the Wardrobe
- The Closed Circuit
- I Used to be Darker
- Ilo Ilo
- Le Week-End
- Hide Your Smiling Faces
This is actually a pretty good story for a low-budget film, requiring only a few authentic costumes, period hairstyles, and some unsullied landscapes.
In 1864, a black boy, Will (Ashton Sanders, making a strong feature debut), works with his uncle Marcus (Keston John) for some bounty hunters. They gain the trust of runaway slaves, then reveal them to the bounty hunters for money.
Will and Marcus are sent on a three-day march to find a man named Nate, a free black man digging graves for the government who has a bounty on his head. Marcus makes them stop at an old shack on their first day out. There he tells Will to practice getting up without making a sound; they’ll stop here on the way back and spring the trap.
They find Nate (Tishuan Scott) and convince him to return with them, telling him a story about his brother. But on the march back, Will sees that Nate is a good man, unlike uncle Marcus. Nate and Will become almost as father and son, to the extent that a few days together can change people.
On the way back they stop to visit a woman named Rachel (Christine Horn) who has a past with Nate. Her scenes show the impossibility of strong family ties under American slavery, while also showing a more domestic, less nomadic way of life.
Good on a Budget
The Retrieval is no12 Years a Slave, but the story and its execution are good. There are really only two primary actors, and both young Sanders and the elder Scott are charismatic and convincing. The awkward situation of black Americans working as bounty hunters for escaped slaves makes a good basis for tension and moral quandaries.
The hair and costumes are almost convincing. I’m not sure whether there were many bald-headed bounty hunters such as Marcus wandering for days in the woods — it seems like a lot of upkeep for someone living so rough. And perhaps some pancake to cover the earring holes would have made the period feel more convincing. But the rough-weave clothes and uninhabited landscapes make for a convincing-enough 1864.
As an example of solid, low-budget filmmaking, it’s hard to beat The Retrieval.