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Film review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

Film & TV

Shia LaBeouf gives a beautifully compassionate performance alongside endearing newcomer Zack Gottsagen in The Peanut Butter Falcon – a thoughtful treatise on the hunt for a life worth living in the face of adversity and what it means to be an outcast.

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Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome, plays Zak, a young man who has found himself in an elderly care facility under the watchful eye of concerned nurse Eleanor (Dakota Johnson).

Zak obsessively watches his favourite wrestling pro, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and wishes desperately to be taught by the hammy performer in his wrestling school. His roommate Carl, played with wry brilliance by the seasoned Bruce Dern, is all too eager to help him, and after the pair conspire to orchestrate a daring escape the story is quickly flung into the backwaters of America.

Now a “little man on the lamb”, Zak meets up with angry fisherman Tyler (LaBeouf), who is haunted by the recent death of his brother (Jon Bernthal). The pair begin a Huckleberry Finn-type adventure as they are chased cross-country by Tyler’s enemies and Eleanor, who ends up joining them on their quest to find the Salt Water Redneck.

The cast deliver brilliant performances, especially Gottsagen and LeBoeuf, whose characters display a heart-warming bond. The writing, too, is witty and brings a much-needed levity to what could have become a heavy-handed discourse on disability and perceived social pariahs.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film steeped in Americana and unafraid to reflect its roots, most obviously The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This is a contemporary take on the Mark Twain story, and writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s infatuation with the American landscape is evident not just in the film’s settings, but also its music and themes.

The cinematographers make good use of wide angles to capture the sprawling vistas, encouraging moments of contemplation for both audience members and the film’s characters. The original score swells during these beautiful shots, with folk banjo and gentle guitar complementing The Peanut Butter Falcon’s sweet nature. Often, the filmmakers seem to be asking: “How can you not be in love with this country? With its people, its stories and its rich history?”

The latter part of the film does stomp on ground already tread by many other feel-good movies, and there is an oddity to the finale that could leave some viewers confused. It would be unfaithful to the film’s themes, however, to not step for a moment into the fantastical and hammer home the dream-chasing nature of the story.

There is an elegant charm to The Peanut Butter Falcon which will put a smile on your face, with Gottsagen and LaBeouf breathing life into their characters to convey the message that no matter the exterior, it’s what’s inside that counts most.


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