Magnificent, deeply moving parable
Libretio | 07/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
(USA - 1995)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Theatrical soundtrack: Dolby Digital
Every so often, a movie comes out of nowhere which touches you so deeply, on so many levels, that it stays in your heart forever. POWDER is such a movie.
The premise is deceptively simple: Following the death of his last remaining adult guardian on their isolated farm, a young albino man nicknamed 'Powder' (Sean Patrick Flanery) is taken into the custody of local authorities. But his genius IQ and ability to harness electricity - leading to spectacular displays of apparently 'magical' behavior - arouses the suspicions of frightened townsfolk, and while he's able to change some people's lives for the better (and how!), others are too consumed by hatred to accept this strange, unique outsider. Thus, the stage is set for potential tragedy...
Writer-director Victor Salva (also responsible for the superb RITES OF PASSAGE, 1998) has constructed a modern parable which works both as a simple entertainment and as a powerful meditation on the nature of Good and Evil. Episodic in structure, the narrative pitches Powder's strange appearance and gentle manner against some of the worst aspects of the human condition - bigotry, mistrust, cruelty - and though Salva makes a brave attempt to portray these shameful characteristics in various shades of grey, his script acknowledges that some people are defined by their hatred and cannot easily be changed. That said, whilst the film doesn't flinch from the rough stuff, it's ultimately a joyous celebration of the human spirit: Though evil flourishes, goodness prevails.
POWDER contains a wealth of memorable moments, but some scenes are truly outstanding, such as Powder's first appearance as a ghost-like figure hovering in the darkness of the cellar where he's been hiding since his grandfather's death; the beautiful/terrible moment in the dining hall of the reformatory when Powder realizes he's never going to be accepted by his peers, no matter how hard he tries; the emotionally devastating sequence with the wounded deer (absolutely unforgettable!); and the sheriff's (Lance Henriksen) last desperate attempt to communicate with his terminally-ill wife (a touching, wordless performance by Dannete McMann). Few other 'fantasy' films of recent years have been so deeply, profoundly moving as this.
Production values are top-notch all the way down the line: From Jerzy Zielinski's beautiful, flawless cinematography, to Jerry Goldsmith's low-key score; from Waldemar Kalinowski's unobtrusive production design, to Dennis M. Hill's expert editing - this is the work of talented craftspeople operating at the top of their game, perfectly in tune with the director's intentions. But the real magic is conjured by a superb cast: Top-billed Mary Steenburgen and Jeff Goldblum are quietly effective in virtual supporting roles, while Brandon Smith underplays the part of a bigoted deputy sheriff whose life is changed forever by his encounter with the title character. As always, Lance Henriksen (who also played the lead in Salva's earlier THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, 1994) distinguishes himself as a humane but disillusioned lawman whose convictions are thoroughly shaken by Powder's remarkable abilities. Look out, also, for terrific turns by Bradford Tatum (as the leader of the bullies who make life a misery for Powder), Missy Crider (the potential love-interest) and the always-wonderful Susan Tyrrell (the sheriff's well-meaning but narrow-minded housekepeper) in small but crucial roles.
But the heart and soul of the picture is, of course, Powder himself, played with heartbreaking sensitivity by Sean Patrick Flanery. Almost unrecognizable beneath an unusual makeup job (by industry veterans Thomas R. Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman) which preserves much of his natural beauty whilst also emphasizing the characters' appealing otherworldliness, he plays Powder without any trace of self-pity; instead, he highlights the kindness and vulnerability of a Christ-like figure whose greatest curse is his total comprehension of the world and its inequities, and by his understanding that he'll never be a part of it (when a vicious thug whispers in his ear: "You really think you can be like us...?", you half-expect Powder to reply: "Who'd WANT to be?!"). Powder embodies many of the qualities which are largely absent from our own lives - goodness, compassion, and an appreciation of Nature in all its rich diversity - and Flanery captures those qualities with vivid grace. Of all the fine performances in this exceptional film, his is the most dignified and triumphant.
Though aimed at the widest possible audience, POWDER's theme of the persecuted loner will strike a real emotional chord with anyone who's ever found themselves on the sidelines, watching the rest of the world go by. This is a movie which speaks loudest to the outsiders amongst us, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed. It will be warmly embraced by anyone who's ever reached out to others and been rejected... anyone who's ever felt lost and afraid, or found themselves alone in the dark... anyone who's ever believed that the world has turned its back on them because of WHO and WHAT they are... anyone who's ever stood aside from the crowd and refused to relinquish their ideals in the face of overwhelming odds... POWDER is THEIR movie, their glimmer of hope. Once seen, never forgotten.
A Vastly Underrated Hollywood Movie Einstein Would Love
Richard Henrickson | New York, NY | 05/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Victor Salva's POWDER fuses science with religion perhaps even better than Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, because it goes to the heart of what life may be all about - that every living thing is actually an indestructible bundle of living energy, a belief held by Albert Einstein.
As Jeff Goldblum's character in the movie eloquently says to Sean Patrick Flanery's, the movie's title character a/k/a Jeremy, this was also the basis for Einstein's belief in life after death. Goldblum's monologue goes on to suggest that the almost perfect human - possibly represented by "Powder" (Jeremy) himself - would evolve through eons of love, understanding, and the 100% use of his or her brain (as opposed to the apparently less than 10% most of us are using now) to the point that he or she would no longer require the human body and would literally become the purest form of that human energy - as "Conversations with God" author Neale Donald Walsch might call it, a living flame finally prepared to interact lovingly with other living flames (not to mention God) without fear.
Goldblum further quotes Einstein later in the movie even more poignantly: "It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity." However, with its heartfelt direction by Victor Salva, superb acting by Goldblum, Flanery, Mary Steenburgen and Lance Henriksen, other-worldly photography by Jerry Zielinski, and J.S. Bach-level score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith, POWDER is proof positive that sometimes our humanity DOES surpass our technology, even in Hollywood."
Chrissy K. McVay | North Carolina | 05/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of those extremely unique and deeply emotional movies that I have to call a masterpiece. 'Powder' is a special boy in many ways, but even his own father was afraid of him. After his pregnant mother is struck by lightning, Powder is born an albino with a strange electrical current in his system that makes him a target for lightning, and ridicule from people who don't understand him.
There's an unforgettable scene after a hunter shoots a deer. This movie left its mark on my heart. A 'must watch'.
Chrissy K. McVay - Author"