Movie review: Slave tale “The Retrieval” defies expectations

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From the May 1, 2014 edition

Joining “Blue Ruin” in opening this week in Columbus is another sterling indie with one filmmaker wearing multiple hats, Chris Eska’s “The Retrieval.”

Eska wrote, directed and edited this film set in a backdrop of slavery — but don’t expect “12 Years a Slave” redux.

Will (Ashton Sanders) is a young African-American in the Civil War-era South. Will and his uncle Marcus (Keston John) are under the employ of white bounty hunters in search of an escaped slave named Nate (Tishuan Scott).

“The Retrieval” is not a film about the atrocities of slavery, although the moral dilemmas of that era provide the backdrop. Instead, Eska crafts an excellent character-driven piece.

At its heart, it’s a story of journey, as the three central characters traverse the land and are only tangentially affected by the distant cannon fire of the Civil War. The scope of an indie budget makes this a necessity, but it also makes the story feel wholly original.

If there are lulls near the middle, they are forgiven during a devastating final act. The performances by Scott and the young Sanders are superb. Both they and Eska are firmly in my watch list going forward.