Wade in the Water, directed by Mark Wilson and written by Chris Retts, is like a 21st century Taxi Driver, examining all the pain and rage and emotional mayhem that leads to self-righteous vigilantism, then taking the examination several steps further.
Whereas vigilante revenge films typically let the cathartic violence serve as sufficient evidence of spiritual corruption, served explosively at the film’s climax, Wade in the Water instead deploys its violence early, where it caps off an acerbically funny first third.
In this first third you might mistake our schlubby protagonist ‘Our Man’ (played with wounded restraint by Tom E. Nicholson) for some new Falling Down-style angry man. Our Man is so put upon and beaten down by his miserable life that getting the wrong burger sets him off. He lives on his filthy sofa where he works, watches old Westerns, and masturbates.
Soon, however, he is in therapy, where he hints at childhood abuse that has never left him.
Our Man finds what seems to be the perfect target for his deep-seated anger after receiving a parcel meant for someone else that contains a disc of horrible images of abuse. Except once his rage has truly manifested the film switches gears hard. For its remainder it becomes both pensively redemptive yet emphatic in its judgement that the cycle of inherited violence takes real will to break.
Without giving anything away, Our Man finds himself making an uneasy, unlikely bond with his mark’s daughter Tilly (a magnetically intense Danika Golombek). They’re both coming to terms with the sins of their fathers, in their own ways. Golombek’s performance is a real feat, covering a wide, ambiguous, tricky emotional terrain that delivers judgement and forgiveness at the same time.
This film tells a heavy story, undercut by oddly sympathetic streaks of mordant humour. Our Man listens to gospel music because he believes that their religious expression (religious hypocrisy emerging as a strong theme) conveys ultimate pain. Pain is all Our Man has known. Wade in the Water uses its sly, offbeat humour and truly unique character arc to show us that pain can be transformed into forgiveness and acceptance.
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