Streaming Releases: Wade in the Water (2019) - Reviewed

There's a popular meme circulating the internet that states "Always be yourself, unless you fan be Batman". Because sure, who wouldn't want to be a billionaire playboy by day, and a costumed, gadget-wielding crime fighter at night? Popular characters like Batman represent how the media has glamorized vigilante justice, framing it as a conflicted hero doing what he must. We overlook sometimes that there were tragic events, not to mention psychological conditions, that led to Batman becoming Batman. Somewhere between the Caped Crusader fantasy of vigilante justice, and the New York subway shooter Bernie Goetz harsh reality lies the nameless protagonist of the new indie drama Wade in the Water.

Portrayed by Tom E. Nicholson, we may not know Our Man (as he is referred to in the film's credits), but we definitely know who he is just by looking at him, or at least we think we do. Our Man is a classic reclusive loner, an obese, slovenly man we'd just as soon ignore, which is fine by him. Something snaps inside him when he mistakenly receives a shocking package, which sets him on a personal quest for vengeance, while confronting some demons of his own. It's when he forms an unlikely relationship with his target's young daughter Tilly (Danika Golombek) that Our Man truly begins to look inward and question his own motives, and the very meaning of justice.

The heroes this city deserves, but not the ones it needs right now.

The first half of the film is a slow, occasionally plodding burn, as Our Man begins to formulate his plan. But it's literally half way through the film's taut, 88-minute run time that things take a turn for the (much) better. The relationship between Tilly and Our Man is a strange and fascinating one, not romantic but certainly evocative of a deeper, more meaningful connection. The more time we spend with these characters, the more intricate and interesting they and their relationship become, to the point where you wish this part of the movie could have gotten going earlier.

Wade in the Water is a fascinating character study, particularly of Our Man, who blossoms from a predictable schlub into a complex, multi-faceted character right before our eyes. Nicholson plays the part brilliantly, effortlessly making us feel for him even when we can't justify his actions. As Our Man Nicholson successfully carrier the emotional weight of the film, and somehow makes it look like it took no effort at all. It's the kind of performance that you really hope will lead to bigger and better things for this talented actor.  Stranger things have happened, after all.

The greatness on display in the second half of Wade in the Water is almost enough to make up for the draggy first half, but it is ultimately too heavy a load to carry. The result is a film that a viewer wishes they could truly, deeply love, but holds itself back too much early on. Wade in the Water a tougher go than it feels like it should be, especially in the first half, but those who choose to follow Our Man on his harrowing journey will find their patience handsomely rewarded. He's no Batman, nor is he Bernie Goetz, but Our Man is a fascinating character in his own right, giving us an emotional yet surprisingly grounded look at what a real life vigilante could, and likely would, be. Wade in the Water is a smart and realistic depiction of the true meaning, and sometimes brutal consequences, of vigilante justice, and despite its first half struggles ultimately succeeds admirably.  

-Mike Stec