The dictionary defines reparation as the act of making amends for a wrongdoing – to “even the score,” if you will. Peace treaties following times of war typically require the losing country or countries to make some kind of monetary amends, or reparations, to the victors. In Kyle Ham’s first feature, Reparation, a former Air Force officer named Bob (Marc Menchaca) tries to remember the past three years, while former colleague Jerome (Jon Huertas) seeks answers related to the horrifying event which caused Bob to lose his memory in the first place.
In stories of hidden remembrance, it is easy to fall into what I call the “rabbit out of a hat” trap – a screenplay phenomenon in which the “answer” to the buried memory is not based on any of the preceding plot material. If the big “reveal” at the end of the screenplay causes viewers to scream, “I didn’t see that coming,” then you’ve been had – taken for a ride by a screenwriter too lazy to populate his script with a proper backstory to support the conclusion. German director Wim Wenders’ 1984 cult classic Paris, Texas accomplished exactly the opposite. The protagonist’s absent memory is revealed deliberately, as layers of his past are divulged in such a brilliant manner as to solidify the ending as fully satisfying. Far more hidden remembrance stories pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat than those which emulate Wenders’ masterpiece.
Reparation is a small indie, filmed on location in Putnam County, Indiana, and its county seat of Greencastle. Much of the acting talent is local. And boy, does it deliver! Screenwriter Steve Timm and writer/director Kyle Ham play honest and fair with the audience using a set-up that could easily have resorted to the rabbit scenario.
When Reparation begins, Bob Stevens is being released from a hospital – devoid of any memory of the past three years. His “companion” is a young boy named Ralph (Fishers resident Brody Behr) who exists only in Bob’s imagination. It takes a little while for us to realize no one else can see and hear Ralph; his role is more or less a Jiminy Cricket role – providing a conscience for Bob seen through the eyes of a youngster. As Bob’s comfort level with the outside world grows, he doesn’t need Ralph as often, and his countenance appears less frequently. By the time Bob has married, started a business, and had a daughter, Ralph is long gone.
Bob’s wife Lucy (Virginia Newcomb) does an excellent job of shielding him from potential external irritants, like inquisitive and vexatious former Air Force colleague Jerome (Huertas). Jerome’s reappearance in Bob’s life causes Bob to begin to piece together his haunted past. Simultaneously, Bob & Lucy’s daughter Charlotte (Greencastle resident Dale Dye Thomas) begins to sketch her father’s own jarring memories. Now don’t for a minute think Reparation is some sort of supernatural story; genetic memory (or “biological inheritance”) is currently a growing field of science. If Reparation can bring a little more attention to genetic memory, more power to Ham and Timm.
Without spoiling the climax, suffice to say that Jerome’s recurring presence becomes almost creepy without evolving into “madman” territory (a la Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear), and that’s another credit to the writing talents of Ham and Timm. Lucy becomes more enraged with Jerome, and Bob eventually relives the terrible event which led to his memory loss – again handled with great care by Ham and Timm. The revealing scene is somewhat reminiscent of Hawkeye Pierce’s situation during the final episode of “M*A*S*H” on television.
The acting is top-notch in Reparation (particularly by Jon Huertas, who walks fine line between inquisitive companion and complete nut-job), but again the writing is as good as any I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, Reparation is such a gripping tale, I forgot that it was filmed in Putnam County, Indiana – my home for four years when I attended DePauw University. It’s a shame Reparation never received the major studio backing it deserves. Fortunately, beginning October 29th, it is available for viewing on iTunes, Vimeo on Demand, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, and the Reparation web-site in Blu-Ray and DVD formats. Don’t miss this one!
Andy Ray’s reviews also appear on http://www.currentnightandday.com/
He also serves as a film historian for http://www.thefilmyap.com/