Paul Schrader, the writer/director of Master Gardener, is a man who has had his career rejuvenated in the past handful of years. Whether it be his own doing or fans who have wanted to see him return to his prominence. His early career in the 70s and 80s was a pretty good start for him. His latest film, similar in tone to his last two films, is a character study. He just knows how to write and direct a man who has a tough life or a life where he has a tough depiction to make. This is his style.
Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is the master gardener at Gracewood Gardens; he tends the gardens with a skeleton crew. He also has a secret in his past that he is hiding from everyone. He’s also the narrator of the film and writes in a journal. His narration gives a lot of good information. He works for Mrs. Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver) she is the owner of the house and property that the gardens sit on, She decides to bring in Maya (Quintessa Swindel) her grand niece who she wants to learn gardening, and eventually take over the garden, Roth teaches her about gardening.
When an incident happens, both of them get fired and go on a road trip together; they learn about each other on the journey and become very close friends. Swindel and Edgerton’s characters both have things they are running from. Their pasts are finally catching up to them. Which makes the story all that more fascinating to follow along with. Added in is the contentious relationship they have with Weaver’s character. These interactions are what drive the plot forward. And kept me interested throughout.
As I mentioned, Schrader is the master at writing troubled characters with a shady or conflicted past. The Edgerton character is on par with Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, Reverend Toller, First Reformed, and William Tell from The Card Counter. They all have conflicts of some kind of their lives. Schrader gives audiences these kinds of juicy characters for them to decide which side they are on. With the main character played by Edgerton, he wants us to have empathy even though his dark past is not exactly something we should get behind. It’s tough for us to watch.
Another thing Schrader infuses into his films is a topic we may not be that familiar with. And that topic in this movie is gardening, plants and so forth. I myself don’t have a green thumb but Schrader made the topic of flowers and plants interesting coming from Edgerton’s character. A use of visual effects in one scene was a pleasant surprise and genuinely beautiful to witness. It showed in a way there was a beauty in this film even though there are dark elements within it.
Master Gardener does a lot of similar things to other Schrader films. It gives viewers a conflicted main character who has to make tough decisions. He also has to try to not be dragged down by his troubled past. This is another character study that he has become synonymous with. The cast including Swindell, Weaver and especially Edgerton are all very good. This is another well written and directed movie by legendary screenwriter and director Paul Schader. His talent is all over this film.
Dan Skip Allen