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Flix at :48: Master Gardener

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 Movie poster for the film Master Gardener with a man glancing over his shoulder
Theatrical release poster

Master Gardener is a new film by writer/director Paul Schrader (First Reformed, 2017) about another man's personal journey of forgiveness and renewal. I use the words "another man," because this film feels a lot like Paul Schrader's last film, The Card Counter from 2021. And I didn't think that was a great film either.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Thirteen Lives, 2022) plays a stiff, laconic gardener preparing the expansive grounds of a private estate under the watchful management of a governing mistress played by Sigourney Weaver (Avatar: The Way of Water, 2022). When a young woman arrives at the estate to be an apprentice under the master gardener, violent secrets are revealed and love surfaces.

Master Gardener has a vibe of odd coldness or aloofness with the sparse interiors, calculated dialogue, delicately simple camera movements, and strange jellyfish wallpaper. All of these elements work well together to give a consistent vision. But because this film is so austere and so formal in its storytelling, it's difficult to feel any emotional connection with the leading character and his patient attempt at redemption. So without this emotional connection, I didn't care what happened to anyone. Putting a perplexing love scene near the end, that portrays no discernible chemistry, only pushes Master Gardener farther into an esoteric realm.

Parts of the story are sprinkled with Joel Edgerton's voice explaining various facts about a few plant species and the history of flower gardens, and those parts have some poetic beauty. Like the line, "Gardening is a belief in the future. A belief that things will happen according to plan."

I'm all for films that avoid predictability, try to do something different, and push the artistic boundaries of the medium. But it turns out a film that tries too hard to be an experiment in ideas or transcendence can be just as boring as an ordinary film trying to make some money. Master Gardener is slightly better than Schrader's last film, The Card Counter. But it's nowhere near as good as his 2017 film, First Reformed.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.