A lethargic drama with existential goals far exceeding its flat delivery, "Indignation" marks the disappointing directorial debut of screenwriter James Schamus (2009's "Taking Woodstock
"). An adaptation of the 2008 novel by Philip Roth, the film seeks to demonstrate the unpredictable, unavoidable causalities of death while also playing as a collegiate slice-of-life pitting a Jewish-raised atheist student against those who he rightly sees as authority-figure oppressors. Unfortunately, the stilted staginess of the proceedings and a lack of cathartic resonance leave each scene feeling labored.
The year is 1951, and American men are being drafted across the country to fight in the Korean War. With higher educational goals, 18-year-old butcher's son Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) has bypassed this threat with a scholarship to Ohio's Winesburg College. When alluring classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) shows an interest in himand a forthright sexual appetiteit almost seems too good to be true. Feeling disconnected from his classmates and bothered by an antiquated school policy requiring each student to attend chapel, Marcus finds himself locking horns with Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts), who would prefer he bottle his secular views and slide in with the status quo.
"Indignation" is episodic, talky and stifling. The claustrophobic feelthere are few exterior scenes to open the story upappears to be less a creative decision and more the corner-cutting results of a small budget. The actors speak to each other with a disconnected tone, weakening their chemistry and would-be meaningful relationships. Logan Lerman (2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower
"), usually an asset in any movie, underplays to a sleepy degree. As Olivia, Sarah Gadon (2014's "Enemy
") has a bewitchingly airy aura, but seems to have wandered in from a different film. Still, hers is the one performance worthy of interest.
The central set-piece in "Indignation"a nearly 15-minute debate of verbal intellects between Marcus and Dean Caudwellgoes on so long it loses much of its effect by the end. For such a strong-willed individual, Marcus proves weak and amenable to his mom, Esther (Linda Emond), when she pries into his personal life and unfairly asks something of him that is none of her business. "Indignation" culminates in what should be an emotional punch to the stomach, yet never earns our cares enough to work as it should. Ultimately, the only thing viewers are left to feel is indifference.