Master Gardener (2023)

Master Gardener (2023)

Yet another tortured-soul-thriller-banger by one of American indie cinema's best



Australia, United Kingdom
Drama, Romance, Thriller
Amy Le, Eduardo Losan, Esai Morales
111 min


Paul Schrader: making gardening great again.

What it's about

Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is an ex White supremacist who now tends to a luxurious garden owned by a rich lady (Sigourney Weaver); all seems well until a young woman comes along and changes everything for him.

The take

As the third instalment in Paul Schrader's "man in a room" trilogy after First Reformed (2017) and The Card Counter (2021), Master Gardner rounds up the issues at stake in a most profound way. For anyone who's seen a film either scripted by Schrader (such as Taxi Driver) or directed by him, there will be no surprises here: lost men, despairing men, men who are desperate to believe in something. But the salvation of love lurks around the corner and the new film makes no exception. An unconventional couple, Joel Edgerton and Quintessa Swindell (as Maya) make up the beating heart of this suspenseful drama with an emotional push and pull delivered in small doses. What could have been a kitschy, insensitive work blossoms into a treatise on how gentle the harshness of life can be. 

What stands out

French gardens, British gardens, geometric, wild gardens, you name them: they're there from the film's very beginning. It's curios to see how Paul Schrader resists the temptation of turning gardening into an abstracted metaphor for emotional labor by including as many gardens as possible from the get-go. Not only that, but also the theory behind horticulture as narrated by Joel Edgerton's baritone sounds enchanting. With the masterstrokes of editing and tracking shots, the film softens the harsh contrast between its protagonist's violent past and his harmless present existence. Yet, the gardens are there, they need tending; we see them flourish, we see them wither. Nature is part of man and in these depictions one can easily find some eco-activism, even if Schrader, cynical as he is, wouldn't admit it.


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