Movie Review: Sadie (2018)

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Habitually cloaked in an army green coat to remind the world that she is her father's daughter and with more than her fair share of anger, disappointment, and rebellion swirling around inside her clever mind that threatens to rise above the surface  – in the eponymous sixth feature from writer/director Megan Griffiths – Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss) is a thirteen-year-old volcano waiting to explode.

Able to quickly size up most of the people in her orbit both at home living in the Shady Plains Mobile Home Park with her hardworking mom Ray (Melanie Lynskey) as well as at school, Sadie puts the military skills she's acquired from a father she hasn't seen in years to daily use.

Knowing how to deflect as well as cover her tracks, Sadie goes from manipulating the school counselor (Tony Hale) who's hopelessly in love with her mom to dispatching a school bully who attacks her best friend and neighbor Francis (Keith L. Williams) with a false bomb threat before setting her sights on an unknown target.

Fascinated by Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.), the mobile home community’s latest arrival, even before the handsome ex-pilot with a bad back gets involved with her mother, Sadie puts a blade to wood while whittling with Francis's grandfather Deak (Tee Dennard) and takes Cyrus in as though she just knows he'll be as much trouble in real life as he is to carve.

Perhaps reading her mind, Deke advises her to "carve" something simpler. "Men," he tells her, "are tough. I'd give it a little more time before starting in on them."

Sadie is full of moments like this – conversations where the meaning cuts two ways and scenes that appear to be about one thing before we realize that they were about something completely different later on – kind of like the film itself.

More than just the coming-of-age movie it appears to be on the surface, Sadie is (as the filmmaker intended) a war picture, but one set at home with a different kind of soldier that's usually overlooked in not only films but news reports about the unknown cost that being in a seemingly endless war can have on a family.

Likewise, by daring to make her potentially volcanic subject a young female instead of the latest in a long line of alienated teenage males whose capacity for devastating violence has become a new national focal point, Griffiths reminds viewers of those who've slipped through the cracks.

Lost in a world she views in extremes – from lipstick, boys, and pink dresses on one side to a reverence for hyperreal military video games, violent movies, and the power that even the sight of a gun can have in getting her way on the other – Sadie is unable to find a nice safe space in between to land.

Surrounded by a group of caring adults whom, despite having their own stuff going on, would be there for her in a moment if asked, unfortunately aside from Francis, the only person Sadie cares to open up to is the man who isn't there.

Thus, Griffiths fills the soundtrack with the letters she writes to her dad in voice-over in tandem with a fittingly pensive score by Mike McCready (both of which carry on into the film's closing credits).

And while the escalating events of the briskly paced film make us wish that we could have known more about our protagonist in a few scenes we would've preferred to have seen rather than heard about, the longer we think about it the more we realize that leaving us filled with questions is precisely the director’s point.

Reminiscent of Michael Cuesta's underrated 12 and Holding in spirit and tone, Sadie, which features a towering turn by Schloss and apt support by Lynskey, is only my second film by Griffiths following her terrific Toni Collette character drama Lucky Them, but this will certainly not be my last.

A war movie told from a point-of-view we seldom see, Sadie asks us to consider just what the side effects are (and continue to be) for the families of soldiers left behind in a world where confusion and violence increases by the day.

As powerful as it is unsettling, Sadie is a thought-provoking story with far reaching implications and the type of work you'll not only immediately want to discuss but also find hard to shake.

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