A tragedy, a work of science fiction, and a satire on mankind's thirst for knowledge all rolled into one, The Penitent Man bravely asks many "what ifs" without providing every answer. In a world of indie films about umbrellas dancing on water and other tripe, this one stands out as a fine example of what someone who simply loves movies can do.
In Nick Gyeney's sophomore effort, The Penitent Man, it's the summary's complex math that is being illustrated.
The story follows the interactions between a young psychologist and his three foils- his wife, his best friend, and his patient. Gyeney breaks a cardinal rule of storytelling: he tells instead of shows. Thankfully, cardinal rules of storytelling are more like guidelines anyway. The film is 85 minutes of dialog, and no amount of intrigue and suspense can prevent it from dragging in places. However slow the film's pace may be, the points of tedium are few and far between; an impressive achievement for a script that threatens to become a run-on sentence. Gyeney prevents this by giving the audience 10 CC doses of separate conversations, rather than a steady IV.
The center point of the film is Pyatt's conversation with a mysterious patient, Mr. Darnell (Lance Henriksen). Through the therapy session where Dr. Pyatt (Lanthrop Walker) attempts to understand- and subsequently help- the resigned yet charismatic Darnell, the main plot points are revealed in startling succession. A few minutes into the meat of the conversation, and most viewers will understand Mr. Darnell's purpose- if not the whole story. Yet, the wonderful thing about The Penitent Man is that it is not designed to keep the viewer guessing. The point is not a big reveal towards the end, but rather, the illustration of what Mr. Darnell understands, how it ties with Dr. Pyatt personally, and even how it illuminates mankind. Mr. Darnell speaks of knowledge, and money, and relationships, and time-travel... yes, time-travel. I'll leave the rest to your imagination for the time being.
The strongest aspect of The Penitent Man is- without question- the cinematography. Don't let the opening pan shot fool you; Gyeney is equally gifted with pen as with the camera. Every shot (with the exception of the aforementioned) is aesthetically pleasing. Every edit and transition is smooth and easy, like a good liquor, which belies the real-world experience of this young film crew at Mirror Images. Subtle hints and homages are given throughout the film, but the best part is that one doesn't have to catch all the little pieces to appreciate the whole.
The acting of the small cast gets a pass for the super-rich intangibles they are forced to contemplate. Even experienced actors like Andrew Keegan ("Ten Things I Hate About You", "O") are not immune to the notoriously flat delivery that indie films can bring out. Keegan's Ovid is still well-played, especially in the brief moments of levity in a conversation strewn with hypotheticals and abstracts most good friends don't often discuss. Walker, a relative unknown from Seattle, does a passable job as the conflicted Dr. Jason Pyatt. Melissa Roberts and Adrien Gamache shine in lesser roles as Pyatt's wife and a mysterious stranger, respectively. Unfortunately, Roberts' teary monologue and subsequent thrust-and-parry with Jason toward the end seems a bit contrived after a generally emotionless first half. Lance Henriksen ("Aliens", "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (VG)") is naturally the best of the lot, playing the part of the (almost literally) world-weary, eternally tormented scientist with delicious poise.
I will forewarn you that there is a secret that is never revealed, which may drive some to madness. But keep in mind when watching- the spectacle is not the point, the story is. This movie does exactly what these kinds of movies do best: inspire questions and discussion.
Keep your eye on this director. If this is what Gyeney can do in less than a month, on a limited budget, between projects, let's see what he can do with more money and time.
Review by Diamond_Knight from the Internet Movie Database.