×

Film Review: ‘Columbus’

An assured and hypnotic debut from tyro writer/director Kogonada with a terrific cast.

With:
John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Parker Posey. (English, Korean dialogue.)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5990474/

There’s an old saying, often attributed to Martin Mull, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In many ways first-time writer/director Kogonada’s “Columbus” treats architecture like music, as its protagonists write, talk, bicker, and dance about an extraordinary collection of modernist structures in the unassuming Midwest town of Columbus, Ind. The hypnotically paced drama carried by the serendipitous odd-couple pairing of John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson is lovely and tender, marking Kogonada as an auteur to watch.

A film critic and video essayist with evident affection for the work of Asian masters ranging from Yasujirō Ozu to Hirokazu Koreeda, the mono-monikered director examines the relationships between his characters and their environment with an architect’s attention to detail. That he also trains his lens on a place and people rarely explored on film, and provides a quintet of terrific performers with the opportunity to stretch and showcase their skills, only adds to his debut’s unique appeal.

Casey (Richardson) has lived in Columbus her entire life. Fast approaching her 20s (or possibly just starting them, it’s not clear), she’s beginning to think about next steps. But a deep connection to her hometown and a strong bond with her working-class mother (Michelle Forbes, moving and lived-in), a recovering addict now in a stable place, makes Casey apprehensive about leaving to pursue her interest in architecture.

Jin (Cho) left his family behind years ago, but returns to the U.S. from his new life in Korea, where he translates literature, when his architecture professor father collapses on a visit to Columbus and is hospitalized in a coma. Although his passions led elsewhere, Jin retains a lingering guilt, and defensiveness, over his lack of family commitment.

Casey and Jin inevitably cross paths, and their casual conversations blossom into a genuine friendship, and possible a courtship. Nothing is quite so simple in “Columbus,” and Kogonada is more interested in the characters’ overlapping and divergent worldviews and dreams, based on culture, environment, and upbringing.

The pair each have a secondary confidante/love interest. Jin with his father’s colleague (Parker Posey, vibrant), on whom he nursed a crush in his youth, and Casey with hyperarticulate Doctoral student Gabriel (Rory Culkin, charming). At one point Gabriel delivers a spellbinding dissection of the modern attention span, suggesting Kogonada is aware of the material’s ponderous nature and specialized audience appeal.

But those who appreciate “Columbus” will likely take it to heart. The relationships between each of the characters are imbued with warmth and humanity, and the filmmaking — like the city’s structures designed by the likes of Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei — is simply gorgeous.

The modernist landmarks in Columbus (incidentally the hometown of Vice President Mike Pence) are true co-stars here. Casey’s appreciation of the “healing power” of buildings stirs something in Jin that never quite connected when he was with his father (although it’s surely no coincidence their bond coincides with his father’s coma), and the film’s gentle explorations of class divides — we’re constantly reminded of the people trying to make a living inside of these works of art — qualify as a timely addition to the current national dialog.

But Kogonada, who also serves as the editor, has also made a film that feels timeless. From Elisha Christian’s rigorously composed cinematography to Hammock’s sparingly but very effectively used ambient electro score (the film gets just as much emotion out of stretches of silence and layered sound design).

At the center of it all, amid the buildings, are Cho and Richardson. One veteran demonstrating his untapped ability as a captivatingly sincere leading man, and one relative newcomer proving her ability of holding the screen with maximum soulfulness in a minimalist drama. Together they form an unexpected, but perfectly constructed, pair.

Film Review: 'Columbus'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 24, 2017. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: A Superlative Films and Depth of Field presentation in association with Nonetheless Productions. Producers: Andrew Miano, Aaron Boyd , Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Chris Weitz, Giulia Caruso, Ki Jin Kim. Executive producers: Bill Harnisch, Ruth Ann Harnisch, Max A. Butler, Mattia Bogianchino, Beatrice Camerana.

Crew: Director/writer/editor: Kogonada. Camera (color, HD): Elisha Christian. Music: Hammock.

With: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Parker Posey. (English, Korean dialogue.)

More Film

  • BOTM-Eve-Viper-Gang

    Director Angus Gibson: My Audience is ‘Young, Black South Africans’

    DURBAN–Sophiatown, 1958. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, as the apartheid police prepare to demolish the community at the heart of black South African cultural and intellectual life, a notorious gang leader is determined to make a last stand. Resisting the forced evictions that will transport the residents of Sophiatown to a desolate township miles away, [...]

  • marvel

    Marvel Phase 4 Plan Revealed, But Comic-Con’s Big Winner is Disney Plus

    In a triumphant return to the San Diego Comic-Con main stage, leadership at Marvel Studios managed some splashy surprises and showed off risky creative bets for the next two years of content coming from the superhero operation. But the biggest takeaway from the Saturday presentation inside Hall H was how important Marvel will make Disney [...]

  • Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel

    'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh Go Head-to-Head in First Footage

    Marvel’s “Black Widow” has only been in production for a month, but studio president Kevin Feige still delivered the goods for fans at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Filmmakers brought an intense sizzle reel of on-location shots, kicked off by a dazzling and bone-crushing fight sequence between lead Scarlett Johansson and her on-screen sister Florence [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor

    Natalie Portman Returns for 'Thor: Love and Thunder' as Female Thor

    Natalie Portman is coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she’s no one’s love interest this time around. The Oscar winner will play a female god of thunder in the fourth film from the Chris Hemsworth series, titled “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Portman hit the stage at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday to great [...]

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. It marks the first Fox property for Disney to mine since the [...]

  • Mahershala AliMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. Wesley Snipes previously played the half-vampire superhero in [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.” Derrickson said it will lead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content