New Jerusalem | Movie review
Will Oldham is typically strong—but atypically beardless—in this drama from the director of The Comedy.
Though he’s better known for his music—the quavery, lonely-road folk he performs as Bonnie “Prince” Billy—Will Oldham is a captivating character actor. He brings an off-kilter intensity to every role he occupies, be it the budding teen preacher of John Sayles’s Matewan, the floundering estranged bestie of Old Joy, or even Zach Galifianakis’s hype man in that riotously funny Kanye West video. Oldham is certainly the highlight of New Jerusalem, a DIY drama as stripped bare as one of its star’s plaintive ballads. Uncharacteristically beardless, the moonlighting troubadour plays a blue-collar believer named Ike, whose evangelical strategy involves persistent, boundary-violating moral support. The target of his soul-saving crusade is Sean (Colm O’Leary), an Irish immigrant and Afghanistan war veteran caught in a vise grip of depression. Coworkers at a tire shop, the two men form a friendship—despite Sean’s initial impatience with Ike’s unsolicited spiritual counseling.
There’s a faint flicker of humor in New Jerusalem, much of it linked to Oldham’s rambling depiction of altruistic invasiveness. (In the funniest scene, Ike—whose lack of self-awareness borders on Aspergian—wanders the perimeter of Sean’s home, peering in every window and ignoring the questions of a concerned neighbor.) Mostly, however, the tone is one of stark seriousness, with writer-director Rick Alverson content to watch O’Leary’s sad-eyed vet quietly cope with some unspecified trauma. You end up longing for the more confrontational tactics of the filmmaker’s other recent effort, The Comedy, which he shot after New Jerusalem and which played at Facets two weeks ago. Now there was a film, bold and uncompromising, that might have truly benefited from Oldham’s odd-duck contributions.