The Water Man Movie Review: An intriguing film that pits the average with the good
An underwhelming primary plot, some fine acting, and a good side-story of family troubles
The Water Man is a curious sort of film. It finds itself somewhere in between a full-fledged fantasy-adventure and a through-provoking family drama. It offers some fine performances in a story that could have most certainly done more to engage. The premise is fairly simple. A precocious boy in the midst of writing a graphic novel about a dead detective finds out about the seriousness of his mother’s cancer diagnosis. Using his powers of bookish intelligence, he conducts research into a mythical figure called the Water Man. Based on a real person belonging to the same town from centuries ago, he was once brought back to life after a devastating flood that claimed his wife and countless others. Legend has it that the man still roams the interiors of the nearby forest, searching in vain for his deceased partner. And it is believed that he has in his possession a stone that can bring the dead back to life.
Director – David Oyelowo
Cast – Lonnie Chavis, David Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, Amiah Miller, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello
Streaming On – Netflix
What hits home in The Water Man are the two stories of family and trauma. Two children, dealing with vastly different home issues beyond the scope of their years, brought together by circumstance. Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) lives in a stable and supportive household, but in the garb of protection, the severity of his mother’s condition is kept from him. His father’s long absence also proves to be an impediment as the two fail to understand each other adequately. Jo (Amiah Miller), on the other hand, comes off as a confident and enterprising kid who loves to spin yarns about her encounter with the elusive Water Man. Whenever we see her, she’s almost always away from the confines of her home. Is that confidence and rebelliousness hiding something? These aspects of the plot are excellently conceived. Whereas the part-fantasy, part-adventure, part allegorical tale of the figure residing in the bowels of the jungle is the one that disappoints. The build-up is good, with Gunner’s organised approach matching forces with Jo’s daring attitude. But as they get deeper into the woods, the narrative begins to meander, and eventually fizzles out. Even the supposed meaning behind the reveal is too underwhelming to be taken at face value.
The highpoint of this film is undoubtedly the acting prowess on display. Headed by young Lonnie Chavis (who continues to wow us after his splendid work on This Is Us), the cast puts in a collectively believable and intense performance. Despite their limited screen time, the supporting act of David Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson (playing Gunner’s worried parents) is impressive. Amiah Miller’s Jo may play second fiddle to Chavis’ lead character, but she holds her own at every step of the way, especially in the moments where she must confront her difficult childhood. If it weren’t for the acting and the well-sketched out characters, The Water Man could have been relegated to the grade of a mediocre film. Though the primary plot brims with potential at the outset, it fails to make any sort of serious impression as things move along, and needs bailing out by the cast and characters and its minor storyline of family troubles.
The underlying theme of the film is hope. And while the denouement surrounding the Water Man is handled rather poorly, the open-ended nature of the film is an intriguing one – one that alludes to the aforementioned theme being discussed. We’re not given answers as to what the future holds. In a sense, that makes up for the jungle search mission gone awry. This is a difficult one to judge because it’s rare to have an average central story in which the all-around abilities of the cast are exceedingly good. Characters, both major and minor, are given the right nuance and depth by the actors who play them. One can only imagine how good The Water Man could have been had the writers come up with a better showing for the parts involving fantasy and allegory.