May 7, 2020
Take – U.S., 2007
There is a twist toward the end of Charles Oliver’s 2007 film Take that changes your perception of everything that has preceded it. I do not wish to reveal it; however, I was surprised how powerful the revelation was and how it made complete sense from both a personal and psychological perspective. In a way, it is a necessity, a form of both emotional self-torment and relief that reflects one of the normal functions of the human psyche – the need to believe the best of people we don’t know if only to give ourselves a way of letting go.
Take primarily follows two characters, Ana (Minnie Driver) and Saul (Jeremy Renner), on two different days in time. One is the beginning of their tragic interaction, the other the last, perhaps making it one of closure, whatever that means. We meet these two characters at a jail; one is on the inside; the other on the outside. The woman is on the phone with her husband, who is notably absent on what appears to be an important day. A shot of the kind of chair associated with lethal injections hints at the finality of what is about to transpire. In an emotionally devastating shot, we see a close-up of Saul’s lost stare and as the camera pans back, we see his full devastating expression. He doesn’t speak; in truth, he doesn’t need to. This is the face of a man full of remorse.
The film then flashes back – back to the woman’s trek to the jail, back to the young man’s final conversations with his best friend, who just happens to be a minister. Spliced into these flashbacks are scenes from another day years earlier. We see that Ana worked as a cleaning lady and that Saul was an employee of a mini-storage facility. We soon see that each of them was facing extreme challenges. Ana was trying to raise a son whose teacher and principal had given up on him; Saul had been informed that he had twenty-four hours to repay a gambling debt. They didn’t know each other; there was no reason to think they ever would. However, a snippet of a flashback early on hints at the utter devastation that their eventual crossed paths will have on their lives.
Some of what transpires is unfortunately par for the course. After all, how many movies about this kind contain scenes in which a religious figure mentions God only for the condemned man to reject the efforts to save his soul? Take doesn’t break any new ground in these scenes, but there is at least genuineness to them. A minister would likely argue for finding peace and accepting love before one meets his maker, and a man like Saul would probably be unreceptive to them, angry at the perceived irrationality of such sentiments. The film also makes the unfortunate choice of visually showing a series of conversations that are likely happening in Ana’s head, either as a means of coping with loss or as a possibly indicator of a mild form of madness. Showing us the conversation weakens those two possibilities, turning talking to someone who’s not actually there into just another common form of self-therapy A bolder film would have found a more realistic way of conveying her continued sorrow without having to rely of such a numbing narrative technique.
The film is much better when it devotes time to the circumstances that led to their eventual meeting. Ana is presented to us as the kind of self-sacrificing mother we so often admire in society – she works menial jobs, while raising a son whom society is almost certain to label as having either ADHD or mental challenges. Her husband, a high school teacher, seems to be a good man; he’s just not around enough. In Saul’s scenes, we witness a young man who seems to have decided that he’s destined for something other than normality. He’s wrong, of course, but that way of thinking has put him on an extremely destructive course and mixed him with entirely the wrong crowd. It has also put his life in danger, hence, his eventual desperate actions.
I felt for these characters. I saw the nobility in Ana’s path, and I detected a spark of decency in Saul’s troubled soul. In a perfect world, Ana’s choices would have resulted in a moment of triumph, as her son walked on stage to collect his diploma. There are many Anas out there - people who quietly live their lives as best as they can, who give their all so that someone else can eventually reach his or her potential. And there are numerous Sauls – individuals who are not so much evil as lost on a downward moral spiral that finds them less in control of their actions than they’d like to think they are. This is, of course, by design, a result of a characteristic common in all of us, without which, we’d truly be lost.
As Ana, Minnie Driver gives an unforgettable performance, taking us on a whirlwind of emotions – from Ana’s cheerful, determined demeanor before the tragedy, to the heart-wrenching incident at the film’s core, and finally to the inspiring resolve that she finds in the film’s closing moments. This is one I’ll remember for a while. Jeremy Renner is equally memorable. He takes us on a one-way descent to despair and desperation, while never letting us completely lose sight of the Saul’s humanity. Had the film been more successful, I have no doubt that at least one of them would have been in consideration for an Oscar. Take is not an easy film to watch – no film with this subject matter is – but it is thought-provoking and ultimately cathartic. I hope more people discover it. (on DVD)