'Columbus' film review: Precise & elegant cinematic minimalism in practice
Sensitive and eloquent, the indie drama "Columbus" (playing in select cities Aug. 4) is the cinematic hybrid of "Lost in Translation" and "Before Sunrise" that also serves as a showcase for its lead actors.
In short: Two young people meet in Columbus, Indiana - Jin (John Cho, "Star Trek") is stuck in town while his father is hospitalized in a coma and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, "The Edge of Seventeen") puts aside her dreams to stay in town to take care of her drug-addicted mother. Parker Posey, Michelle Forbes and Rory Culkin also star.
"Columbus" revels in the commonalities that Jin and Casey share - namely that both are essentially trapped in Columbus because of their parents. The film demands so much of its two principle cast members, and they rise to the occasion in this subtle work.
"Columbus" operates with a delicate touch, preferring nuance over melodrama of any sort. The film takes a minimalist approach to emphasize the solitude Jin and Casey experience. It even rejects an underlying score for the most part, allowing the gaps between its sparse - but significant - dialogue to linger. This is an articulately shot work - using visual and aural negative space to frame the isolation of its two leads. Its diligent composition leaves no room for unnecessary exposition, allowing the film to elegantly establish Jin and Casey's shared dilemma.
Writer-director Kogonada uses his filmmaking debut as a meta-critique on the shock-and-awe most films lazily resort to in desperate bids to grab and keep an audience's attention. At several points, characters allude to intentional minimalism as a means to focus on the fundamentally important components without losing them in unnecessary white noise. "Columbus" is that philosophy in practice. Even the quiet moments that - on their face - seem uneventful are wrought with some degree of internal or emotional turmoil: Jin and Casey's unexpressed struggle to define their respective identities.
So many shots from "Columbus" can be framed and hung on a wall. The film is precisely crafted work of cinema, purposely framed shots that allow the arresting visuals to grab the audience and patiently paced with long takes that give every moment room to breathe. Despite an utter lack of sound and fury, "Columbus" is an inspired and quietly shattering work of cinema -- a deliberate work of storytelling that unexpectedly satisfies on every sensory level.
Final verdict: Cho and Richardson are superb in this authentic and uncontrived drama. "Columbus" is well-crafted and striking standout of 2017 independent filmmaking that should not and cannot be missed.
"Columbus" screened at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival and opens in select cities Aug. 4. This drama is unrated and has a running time of 100 minutes.