Writer-director Rachel Lambert makes a striking debut with this enigmatic family drama about a prodigal son’s return to his family and hometown, and the demons stirred by his arrival.



In the Radiant City

Rachel Lambert

Every year there is a small collection of new directors who emerge, seemingly from nowhere, presenting work of such confidence and dimension that they appear like the Greek goddess Athena, born fully formed and wearing armour. This year, writer-director Rachel Lambert is one of those artists.

We meet Andrew Yurley (Michael Abbott Jr., Loving, Mud) as he is deciding to return to the town where he was born and raised. He has demons to face, and it won't be easy. He stays in a rundown motel on the edge of town, and we wonder: Why doesn't he stay with his family? Why doesn't he even try at first to see his family?

The complex and deeply dramatic story of the Yurley family's past is revealed in a patient and natural rhythm, and that cadence brings us back to the present day, when Andrew must face a significant moral question — almost as difficult as the one he faced many years ago. To arrive at his answer he must first confront his fiery sister, Laura (Marin Ireland); his niece, Beth (Madisen Beaty), who doesn't know whether to believe the stories; and his mother, Susan (Celia Weston), old before her time and yearning to see her son.

To reveal more of the plot would rob viewers of the pleasure of experiencing a film that allows discovery of its characters and story through showing, rather than telling. At surface, it's a simple narrative, but Lambert is a director who understands the power of silence and subtext. Alongside her deeply talented cast, she has created a work of great rigour and power, with one of the best final scenes in a film this year.



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