Directed by James Schamus.
Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gabon, Tracey Letts, Linda Emond and Danny Burstein. 110 mins
Another week, another first time director is having a bash at filming a Philip Roth novel: while reality is providing an alarmingly faithful enactment of his novel The Plot Against America, the cinema is still struggling with its attempts to do justice to his work. James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features and scriptwriter on most of Ang Lee's most prestigious films, has decided to adapt one of Roth's later novels, the story of a bright young Jewish boy Marcus (Lerman) from New Jersey who gets a scholarship to study law at a straitlaced, decidedly Christian, university in Ohio in 1951 and thus avoids the draft for the Korean War. Unlike the vigorous skim read approach of Ewan McGregor to American Pastoral last week, Schamus has a rather original approach to trying to transfer a literary novel to the screen: he shoots it like it is the film of a play.
So his script is made up almost entirely of long dialogue scenes between two, sometimes three, people. These can go on for five, six, seven minutes; sometimes even longer. Between these there are some shorts exterior scenes or shots of college life which are like the house lights going down between scenes; you can almost imagine a bunch of stage hands scuttling around behind screen setting up the props and shifting the backcloth ready for the next scene. Then after a minute or two the curtain will rise on Marcus and another character or characters as they embark on another set piece dialogue.
This approach sucks most of the dramatic impetus out of the story but it does at least tackle and discuss, literally and at length, the themes and ideas of the book; primarily the way small decisions and choices shape our lives. During his time at college Marcus goes on one date, with Gloria Hutton (Gabon) who performs, totally unbidden, a sexual act, (one of the Jobs) and Marcus's flustered and confused reaction to this starts a chain of events that threaten the bright future he expects to forge for himself.
Indignation's saving grace is its performances. Letts shines in the showy role of the college Dean, a fair minded, reasonable monster. It is perhaps the two younger performers who really impress though. Lerman is like a young Christian Slater who has had all the Jack Nicholson affectations surgically removed. Gabon though has an enticing mix of dirty minded innocence that is reminiscent of Patricia Arquette.