The Problem Of The Hero: Review

The Problem Of The Hero: Review

The Problem Of The Hero: Review.

Adapting a stage play into a movie is tough enough with so many lackluster examples out there, like Spinning Into Butter, Love’s Labour’s Lost, August: Osage County, and others. And then when you mix that in with historical drama, it gets even more difficult to manage fictionalizing past events.

The film The Problem of the Hero attempts to offer up the making of a stage play, Native Son, and the drama between its two writers Paul Green and Richard Wright, who wrote the bestselling novel, in which the play is based. In some ways, delivers on a sort of unconventional stage adaptation and the opposing viewpoints of two literary juggernauts. It’s a balancing act that’s thought-provoking and visceral—albeit a little muddy and flat.

Written by James A. Hodge & Ian Finley and directed by Shaun Dozier (all making their feature film debuts), The Problem of the Hero follows author Richard Wright (played by J. Mardrice Henderson) and playwright Paul Green (played by David Zum Brunnen) during the rehearsal before Native Son opened on Broadway in 1941. The two work together to be ready for opening day, but the pair are still at odds with how the play should end.

Throughout the film, the difference between growing up Black and White, nurture and nature, Communism and Capitalism, author intent and audience reception, Europe and America, Atheism and Christianity, condemning actions and the luxury of choice, and other themes. Moreover, whether the Broadway version will comfort or confront White people’s beliefs. The men feel like cyphers for these themes rather than characters. However, it seems like it’s the filmmakers intent since the structure feels didactic.

While the film itself has a simple story told in a series of flashbacks that are bookended with Green hearing news of Wright’s death at age 52, The Problem of the Hero feels almost an experiment in storytelling. The film seems to be more about its themes examined through the lens of pre-World War II American Racism, the subjugation of Black people, which is all told and blocked with the cadence and delivery of a stage play. In some ways, it feels like a Wallace Shawn film in tone, like My Dinner with Andre or A Master Builder.

In addition, the racism that Wright experiences is outside of the theater, as well as inside of it without overtness or supremacy. It plays out below the surface with microaggressions and gaslighting, even from his peers and allies.

Although The Problem of the Hero is enthralling, captivating, and effective at times, it feels like an overall homage to Richard Wright—pulling from his works like Native Son (both the novel and play) and White Man and Black Man. Dozier takes advantage of the film’s small scale to deliver something that feels larger than the sum of its parts, which is a big credit to Henderson and Brunnen’s stellar performances of Wright and Green as colleagues, rivals, and friends. Furthermore, the problem of the hero is there’s still no heroes in America.

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Rudie Obias lives in Brooklyn, New York. He’s a writer and editor who is interested in cinema, pop culture, music, NBA basketball, science fiction, and web culture. His work can be found at IGN, Fandom, TV Guide, Metacritic, Yahoo!, Battleship Pretension, Mashable, Mental Floss, and of course, BRWC.


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