Tense drama “Oliver Sherman” probes the psychological impact of military combat when one hopelessly lost ex-soldier visits his happily settled former superior and shows no inclination to leave. Based on a short story by Rachell Ingalls, Ryan Redford’s first feature is a strong item that’s probably too small and spare to gain much theatrical traction. But familiar-face leads (particularly from TV) should guarantee some broadcast and VOD exposure in various territories.
Shot in Ontario, the pic doesn’t specify its time, location or the war its male principals fought in. But then Sherman (Garret Dillahunt) seems cut off from such specifics; he’s drifted, never really belonging anywhere or to anyone, ever since a yearlong hospital recovery from a battle wound that left a metal plate in his head. Having taken a bus from “the city” and walked the rest of the way, he simply shows up unannounced one day on the doorstep of Franklin (Donal Logue), who saved his life, and won a medal for it.
Franklin is now a rural mill worker married to Irene (Molly Parker), raising two very young children. Into this domestic setting comes Sherman, for whom normal life is both an unreachable goal and a target of disdain. While kindly Franklin takes pity on the guy, clearly a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, the strange ideas in their guest’s noggin and his occasional frightening outbursts soon set off alarms for Irene. Indeed, Sherman comes to view her as a sort of rival for Franklin’s attention, which he believes he has a superior claim to. More “psychological” than “thriller,” “Oliver Sherman” (titled after a hospital clerical error that reversed the disoriented protagonist’s name) nonetheless builds a taut atmosphere of potential violence.
The three leads are expert performers who easily convey the full range of character nuance within the frame of a spare narrative and dialogue; Dillahunt’s task is the most difficult, ambiguous and striking.
Likewise, packaging is economically precise yet evocative in all aspects. Script’s only significant change to the source material is an ending that somewhat raises the dramatic stakes, staying restrained enough to feel of a piece with all that preceded it.