Review: The Custody (2014)

The Custody, original title La Garde, is a film that proves that a straightforward simple premise that opens an avenue to examine characters in the tensest circumstances possible can be highly effective. It’s a low concept that’s high on drama, character studying and features two tremendous performances by Paul Doucet and Antoine L’Écuyer.

The premise is as follows: Luc (Doucet) is frustrated with the restrictions that have been placed on his custody rights. His disobeyed court orders about visitation have lead to restraining orders and the like. Risking jail time he has continued to follow his son and resolves to take him hunting so they can be closer whether Samuel (L’Écuyer) wants to go or not.

In seeing the trailer or reading the synopsis you know certain things are givens. However, the foreboding that’s built in through the edit and the low-angle shots and urban color palette of the early shots really carries the film until there is a shift both in the tone and setting.

However, with the more traditional thriller template somewhat out the window once the backdrop is sylvan there is a fascinating shift, as despite the high stakes circumstances that come to the fore the characters continue to prod one another and seek answers. In certain ways they are still duty-bound as father and son, but the estrangement and conflict continues to influence proceedings. There are no facile resolutions, no epiphanies where unrealistic understanding can be achieved.

With all the givens in place be they character- or narrative-driven there could be a great temptation to expand the world and cutaway, to raise the stakes and detract from the central focus of the narrative: the father/son conflict. This temptation is wisely resisted and the world stays small.

Much of the storytelling in this film is visual and that is appreciated. However, to reach the heights this film does it needs superlative performances. It gets those in spades. Doucet carries himself as a man who is clearly flawed but not cartoonishly evil, a man whose motivations can be clearly understood even if his actions can’t always be condoned. When he fills in those blanks with backstory the film, and his performance just becomes richer.

It’s so unique to find two performances by an actor at such different ages in development as a child performer being released in the same year. When I saw It’s Not Me, I Swear recently I saw that L’Écuyer had tremendous potential. With that film waiting so long to see American distribution I did not realize that I had seen him in a music video before. In this part he’s about four years older than he was when he showed such promise in It’s Not Me, I Swear. That promise is followed through with tremendous alacrity and poise. His presence on film, this one especially, is a forceful one indeed.

I’ve been quite careful to try and preserve much of the surprise in this tale. Rest assured that what you now know of this film is only the very beginning where things set-up. There are changes afoot throughout and it is a tremendously engaging drama that is worth seeking out.

8/10

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