“Everyones got a secret you know, Something they hide..”
A small time criminal unravels a catastrophic secret and goes head-to-head with one of London’s most notorious gangsters. Jack (Sam Donnelly), returns to London after 3 years in exile, he immediately goes in search of his next heist. After discovering that his old connections have gone cold, he meets Laura (Amie Burns Walker) who introduces him to the perfect mark – a rich gangster named Duke. When the heist goes awry, Jack’s persistence is met with violence and intimidation. As the violence escalates, and Laura becomes collateral damage, Jack fights back leading to a revelatory discovery that will alter his history.
From the opening frame The Return broods a foreboding demeanor. The stark composition introduces the audience to an atmosphere that is stylistically regal. A voice over narration provides some introductory exposition, as we meet our protagonist, discussing the events that have landed him in his current position. At it’s core, this film is a referendum on deceit, paralleled to the underlying theme of responding to explicit duplicity. With a clean color palette of black and white, the visual composition juxtaposed to the films complexity in narrative is a striking contrast that preys on the audience’s psyche. The visual arrangement creates an ambience that both simplifies and yet veils the story, creating a tale that is difficult to comprehend at times, which appears to be the angle of the filmmaker.
The Return is acutely bewildering, as a bevy of twists keep the audience guessing from start to finish. Uniquely enigmatic, Director Oliver Nias brilliantly plays up the psychological aspect forcing you to pay very close attention as you slowly gather pieces of the puzzle that eventually add up to the films poetic climax. The story is surgical in it’s approach, with a tension that seeds itself to our protagonist and never dissipates. Nias develops a plot that gains momentum as it progresses, relying heavily on misdirection and totems hiding in plain sight. From the get go, this film looks the part of a high concept thriller. The non linear format, and personalized sequences comprised of close up shots that force you into Jack’s perspective, are a result of agile filmmaking that makes the most of a limited budget. The up close and personal feel of the film creates this unsettling pit in the viewer’s stomach, as you’re invited to live these events as Jack has.
Nias makes his feature directorial debut, but you wouldn’t know it watching this film. The exemplary use of 35mm stock, and the manner in which the color was pulled post production suggest a craftiness that far exceeds his purposed experience. Indicating a distinct intelligence and awareness in his approach, everything from angles, to editing show that this team is adept at creating a well manicured production for pennies on the dollar. The budgetary constraints Nias and crew faced did absolutely nothing to hinder the outcome and arguably created the atmospheric vacuum that provoked the ingenuity necessary to create such a visually stunning project. The writing is something to be commended as well. The script is a deftly penned riddle that muddles up motivational details purposefully to keep you guessing at every turn. Reminiscent of similar genre films like The Usual Suspects or Memento, The Return may not be breaking new ground, but it’s methodical pacing, and intelligently subversive commentary on secrecy is a refreshing take on noir storytelling.
Electing to craft the narrative almost exclusively from Jack’s point of view was a risky undertaking. Placing all of their chips on the side of Sam Donnelly to carry the film was likely no easy decision, but Donnelly rewards Nias’ decision. His performance is particularly vibrant yet subtle. With a stoic delivery, Donnelly does more with a sneer or lippy grin than most performers could with an entire page of dialogue. It’s clear this film will only go as far as he can take it, and thanks to his brilliance, the audience becomes immersed in this world, and in effect, emotionally attached to Jack’s well being. Difficult is the task to make a criminal a sympathetic figure, but with a well written script by Nias, and an optimal performance form Donnelly, the outcome is ideal. The rest of the cast admirably follows in Donelly’s footsteps. It’s a rarity in film to see one performer elevate the entire ensemble, but The Return is a prime example of what is possible when you have a masterful performance from your lead.
The opening sequence, is perhaps the most impressively inquisitive, and arguably most important of the film. Jack sitting before a parole psychologist answering a series of rapid fire questions. At first, if you blink, you might miss one of the most intriguingly important moments of the film. A singular question is repeated in the sequence that reveals a conflicting response from Jack. This may seem like a minor observation, insignificant, but it’s these types of moments peppered throughout the story, culminating in a spectacular reveal, that make The Return special. The entire film is shrouded in complete uncertainty, and the characters all seem to be speaking rhetorically, but somehow it’s a dialogue style that fits the motif. Nias doesn’t need to create the illusion of grandeur, as the story is steeped in realism. The backdrop of London creates the perfect setting, and the use of daylight helps drench the picture, making the monochromatic visuals pop with fervor. The Return is a remarkable story that asks the audience to navigate the very messy situations retrospectively. Creating a conceptually frustrating atmosphere, this film is all about being on the wrong side of deception. For a movie about treachery, and perils of trust, it’s also extremely endearing. Simply put, The Return is beautifully directed, exceptionally well acted, and it’s complexity provides a cerebral exercise that keeps the audience engrossed throughout it’s run time.
4.35/5 EPIC BRO!