How much can a single excellent performance redeem an otherwise mediocre movie? That’s the question that plagues the mind throughout the awkwardly titled Kodachrome. Despite being based on a true story, the film is one of the laziest and most maudlin to appear in the awards-bait corner of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It’s plagued with problems. Yet at the center of it all is an absolutely remarkable performance from Ed Harris. While everyone around him struggles to sell the dull and mediocre screenplay, Harris makes it all seem so easy and natural. It’s not just because he has the best role either. He’s just that good. He’s been the best part of many otherwise bad movies. It’s rarely his fault when he’s part of a stinker like Kodachrome.
He’s not the star though. Nope, this thing is designed to collect all the Best Supporting Actor trophies. The star is Jason Sudeikis in his recent “serious, yet still sarcastic” mode. He plays a struggling member of a record label. The guy who knows everything there is to know about music and can find great bands, yet just can’t handle the business side. He’s been given an ultimatum: convince a rising rock band to switch to his label or get fired. That’d be stressful enough for any hard luck protagonist, but to make matters worse he also receives word that his estranged father (Ed Harris) is dying. He’s a famous photographer and absentee dad who just found out that his favorite film stock is being discontinued. He has a few rolls he’s saved over the years that need to be developed and wants Sudeikis to join him on the trip. Uh-oh! That sounds like whole lotta bickering and bonding! To complicate things, Harris also has a beautiful young nurse/assistant (Elizabeth Olsen) with him. She’s as painfully single as Sudeikis. Hmmmm…
The script is apparently based on an article about a road trip between a real iconic photographer and his son. Not that you’d know that from watching the film though. This thing hits so many “inspirational father/son road trip” tropes that it can be predicted accurately from frame one. You know those old photos that this estranged father has been sitting on for years? Is it possible there’s a very personal reason why he wants to develop them alongside his estranged son? Is it possible that Sudeikis picked up some bad habits from his father that he hasn’t dealt with yet? Could the young woman with no personality beyond her beauty and vague troubles that make her sexier possibly cause a rift between the two competing men? Is there a chance that this whole dumb trip will fix everyone’s problems? Who knows? Well, other than you after about ten minutes into the movie anyways.
As irritatingly obvious as the screenplay might be, it did attract major acting talent. So that means that some scenes work and the production values are high enough for it to feel like a real movie and not just an Oscar clip audition tape. Elizabeth Olsen proves just how talented she is by somehow transforming this cardboard fantasy and lazy writing device into something resembling a human (she acts extra super hard, yet somehow rarely overdoes it). Sudeikis has enough charisma to skate by, although his stock sad faces get dull after a while. He’s not quite yet the dramatic actor that he so desperately wants to be. Ed Harris is remarkable though, from the first frame to the last. He breathes life into the silliest moment, somehow adds depth to a one-note crank, and is never predictable no matter how overly telegraphed his scenes feel. It’s a remarkable bit of open nerve acting from a man who is never less than spectacular and despite the rest of the film’s failings, could get him some awards attention. The rest of the cast barely register enough to be worth mentioning (although whoever decided to slap a handlebar moustache on Bruce Greenwood’s face probably shouldn’t be working in movies any more).