You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Film Review: ‘Gabriel’

Rory Culkin's electrifying performance as a mentally disturbed young man dominates Lou Howe's debut.

Rory Culkin, Deirdre O’Connell, David Call, Emily Meade, Lynn Cohen, Louise Krause, Alexia

Giving an electrifying performance as a mentally disturbed young man, Rory Culkin dominates every scene of “Gabriel,” writer-director Lou Howe’s indie debut. But that domination proves both the film’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness: As different aspects of the character’s unchanging mentality are skillfully revealed, Howe successfully alters viewers’ perceptions. But instead of having his protagonist interact with other fully formed personalities, the script sets up a gallery of one-dimensional characters who exist solely to reveal themselves as indifferent to his needs or totally fixated on them. An admirable if downbeat character study, “Gabriel” still sinks into a psychological quagmire that’s unlikely to captivate arthouse audiences.

Gabriel (Culkin) has just been tentatively released from the asylum where he spent the past several years. This, everyone solemnly informs him, will be his last chance to demonstrate that he’s capable of functioning outside captivity by going home to his family, taking his meds and assuming his adult responsibilities. But Gabriel’s agenda for achieving normality differs significantly from that of his keepers, involving a quixotic (or perhaps merely insane) plan to find and marry Alice, a girl with whom he shared a childhood romance, but whom he hasn’t seen since. What ensues is a running battle between his family members, who want him safely homebound, and Gabriel, who keeps running off to pursue his quest.

The viewer tends to identify completely with Gabriel when, in an early scene, his innocent, playful exchange with a little girl on a bus is angrily misconstrued by her mother. Though viewers are treated to a disquieting display of Gabriel’s finger-biting nervousness and house-punching impatience as his initial search for Alice proves fruitless, the constant admonitions of his straight-arrow, law-studying older brother, Matt (David Call), and the tearful, smothering attentions of mama Meredith (Deirdre O’Connell), seem expressly designed to drive poor Gabriel nuts, making his pursuit of the one person who might treat him like an equal seem understandable.

But after Gabriel escapes home for Gotham in pursuit of his lady love, everything in the film conspires to jack up his oddness quotient. He tunes out while staring at debris on subway tracks and is tortured by the amped-up sound of an overhead fan. He evinces growing paranoia, arming himself with a knife and accusing his family of wanting him dead, musing aloud if they shouldn’t die instead. Meanwhile, individual family members come into clearer focus. But instead of representing something outside Gabriel’s imprisoning subjectivity, they serve instead to double it, defining themselves as survivors of his father’s similar mental illness and ultimate suicide, which hangs over all their fears.

Gabriel’s search gives the film definite, even somewhat suspenseful shape, and Alice (Emily Meade), when she finally appears, turns out to be anything but anticlimactic. But Culkin, no matter how charismatic his presence, is by definition morosely one-note, unable to adapt or change. Wyatt Garfield’s camera can only alternate between medium shots of hunched-over vulnerability and startling closeup glimpses of obsession-lit eyes. Gabriel’s dilemma, though suitably heartbreaking, and goosed along by Patrick Higgins’ tension-stringed score, ultimately becomes as wearisome to viewers as it is to his exhausted clan.

Tribeca Film Review: 'Gabriel'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), New York, April 20, 2014. Running time: 88 MIN.

Production: An AgX production. Produced by Ben Howe, Luca Borghese. Co-producer, Allison Rose Carter.

Crew: Directed, written by Lou Howe. Camera (color, HD), Wyatt Garfield; editor, Jane Rizzo; music, Patrick Higgins; production designer, Chris Trujillo; costume designer, Sarah Mae Burton; sound, Dan Bricker; sound designer, Kent Sparling; re-recording mixers, Lora Hirschberg, Sparling; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, Allison Estrin.

With: Rory Culkin, Deirdre O’Connell, David Call, Emily Meade, Lynn Cohen, Louise Krause, Alexia

More Film

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Makes History for Poland

    Alfonso Cuaron might’ve tied an Oscar record with four nods to his name for “Roma,” which scored 10 nominations overall. But another black-and-white film in a foreign language, Pawel Pawlikowski’s jazz-infused romantic drama “Cold War,” was honored with three Academy Award nominations Tuesday, the most in history for a primarily Polish-backed production. The film will [...]


    U.K. Cinema Attendance in 2018 Was Highest Since 1970

    Cinema attendance in the U.K. topped 177 million in 2018, the highest number since 1970. Box office held firm at £1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) through the year as 10 movies crossed the £30 million threshold in the year. That compares with 6 in 2017. After a sweltering summer in the U.K. and in a soccer [...]

  • ASIB Roma Black Panther

    Vote: Which Movie Should Win the Oscar for Best Picture?

    The 91st Oscar nominations were unveiled on Tuesday with “Roma” and “The Favourite” leading the way with 10 nods each. “Roma,” Alfonso Cuaron’s love-letter to his childhood nanny, is Netflix’s first-ever best picture nomination and could make history as the first foreign-language movie to ever win the top prize at the Academy Awards. More Reviews [...]

  • Göteborg TV Drama Vision Expects 60

    TV Drama Vision Set to Take Pulse of Nordic Commissioners’ Wish List

    More than 360 international delegates are expected at Göteborg’s 13th Nordic TV Drama Vision (Jan. 30-31) described by head of industry Cia Edström as a ‘boutique event’, where top Nordic and international drama professionals gather each year to gauge the state of the Nordic market and hot content. For the first time, to comply with the [...]

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

    Oscar Nominations: The Academy Often Sings to Its Own Tune

    You know the annual Oscar nominations announcement is going to be a lively one when things begin to enter a lull just before they drop, and that’s what it felt like ahead of Tuesday morning’s reveal. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ever evolving and growing as a voting body, was sure to [...]

  • Oscar Nominations: Announcement Doesn't Name a

    Oscar Nominations Reveal Nothing About Hostless Ceremony

    While Tuesday brought a fresh pack of Oscar nominees, we are no closer to understanding what’s in store when the golden statues are handed out on live television come Feb. 24. The point of the dramatic nominees announcement each year is to drum up excitement for the telecast — but this morning, the announcement didn’t feature [...]

  • Roma Cold War

    Oscar Nominations: Foreign-Language Films Surprise in Major Categories

    Mexico’s “Roma,” Poland’s “Cold War,” and Germany’s “Never Look Away” provided a powerful showing for foreign-language films with a combined 15 nominations across several categories for the 91st Academy Awards. The director category featured a number of foreign-born filmmakers: Alfonso Cuaron for “Roma,” Pawel Pawlikowski for “Cold War,” and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos for “The Favourite.” Cuaron [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content