Oliver Sherman - Ryan Redford interview
Director of drama charting reunion between two war veterans
This article is from 2011.
In retrospect, the odds were against us: Fresh-faced freelancer meets first time director straight from transatlantic travel and at the end of a long day’s junket. Ryan Redford, a 31-year-old director showing so few signs of media training one would hazard a guess he was allergic, with added jetlag and with half of Guinness in front of him, and myself, a few days into my first EIFF as a member of the press, fresh from watching his film Oliver Sherman on a DVD screener - a disrespectful format for any director. ‘Fuck you!’ Redford teases, mock-dismissively, and he has a point. ‘It’s a movie intended for the cinema!’ he continues, although conceding, ‘Generally, it’ll probably be seen on video.’ It’s a pessimistic though pragmatic view, which certainly does his engrossing film a disservice.
Oliver Sherman is loosely adapted from Rachel Ingalls’ short story, Veterans, and concerns the ramifications of a reunion between two former soldiers who have led drastically different lives since leaving the army. Donal Logue’s Franklin is a family man who has learned to put his past behind him, while Garrett Dillahunt’s Sherman has struggled after recovering from a bullet wound to the head. Their connection is intensified because Franklin saved Sherman’s life after his injury in combat (the titular reversal of Sherman Oliver’s name alludes to his post-injury confusion). Redford sums it up thusly: ’It’s one dude who thinks he has moved on but hasn’t really and another dude who has really not moved on and shows up to remind the other guy that "you haven’t and you can never".’
While the back story of the two male leads is key, Redford made the decision not to specify which war Franklin and Sherman fought in, or when. This was partly a reaction to the 'million and one' Afghanistan or Iraq movies recently released, to which the director felt he had 'nothing new to offer, on that level'. But the decision to make the historical context ambiguous also served a deeper purpose. 'I wanted it to be something timeless and lyrical and poetic, and that wasn’t going to happen if I made some political, war-related movie. You see them once and, what do they mean on a second screening?" As to the place his own movie might find within the plethora of modern war-related films, Redford is again contemplative. ‘This sounds superficial and awful but I think it’s unfortunate that this movie was made now. Had I been born 20 years earlier, I would’ve made this movie in the ‘70s and I think it’s a movie that is kind of weirdly better-fitted to the ‘70s. It feels like a movie from the ‘70s.’
Oliver Sherman was made after a protracted period in development hell for Redford’s first feature, a western named Bone. The new project came together quickly, with the assistance of Molly Parker, who plays Franklin’s wife, ‘On a very superficial level, Molly Parker means a lot in Canada and it means you get your movie made. However, I think also that she was absolutely right for the role. And additionally I also knew that, via Deadwood, she knew Garrett, so it was an all-in-one perfect package. I met her and she asked, "Who do you have in mind?" And I said, "Garrett?" And then she sent him our message, saying, "Make sure your agent doesn’t throw this in the garbage." And the agent didn’t.’
Dillahunt’s riveting performance drives the film, and is yet another success for the actor who has swiftly become one of the most compelling performers (especially, it has to be said, of oddballs and psychos) currently working. But Molly Parker also delivers a solid performance as wife and mother Irene, whose empathy for her husband’s adjustment to civilian life (‘You’ve done the work’) does not extend to Sherman. Parker’s performance neatly sketches the exposure of her patronising attitude to her husband’s ‘progress’, as her tolerance for Sherman’s presence lessens. Redford agrees, ‘Some people think she’s saintly. I don’t think she’s saintly. She’s annoying. She’s the wife who is hammering him. She’s not a saint.’
Another half of Guinness delivered (‘this is to make me more inspired’) and it’s near the end of Redford’s day in the small meeting room of Novotel. ‘I feel like I’m in high school, talking to the principal,’ he cheerfully but drowsily explains. Livening to the discussion of future work (Bone will likely stay on the shelf for now, because he feels like he’s already made it in his head) and fantasy casting, Redford asks "Can you get me Daniel Day Lewis?" and celebrates the work of his cinematographer on Oliver Sherman, Antonio Calvanche, who has also worked on two celebrated films by Todd Field. Drifting further off topic, he suggests, ‘Paul Thomas Anderson is the best living American filmmaker’. But not Scorsese - ‘Scorsese’s wanking off these days.’ Our time over, he assures me I’m the most human person he’s spoken to today (to be fair, Frost/Nixon this was not) and that he’s sure our festival paths will cross and that we will ‘talk like civilised human beings’. But, alas, I never saw him again.