With Hello Destroyer, writer and director Funk spares down a character study. He saps the action from it–and there’s a lot of potential action, as the character the film studies is a rookie pro hockey player (Jared Abrahamson). Abrahamson’s a quiet loner who fits in well enough with the team, but is rather passive. Outside the opening scene, where the team hazes the rookies, there’s very little action, even during the hockey games. Funk uses mostly close-ups, with his actors near center in a wide frame, with a sharp focus on the character. The first half of the film is exquisitely written, just seeing how Funk is able to do so much with so little exposition, so little setup, just scene and cast.
It’s a pro team but not pro enough Abrahamson and a teammate don’t have to bunk with a local family. Abrahamson’s not exactly one of the family, but he’s got a good rapport with his hosts, even babysitting for them.
Then there’s a bad game and, in response to coach Kurt Max Runte’s belittling screaming at he and his teammates, Abrahamson gets too rough on the ice and hospitalizes another player. Abrahamson’s naive and confused, especially when host mom Sara Canning starts acting scared of him and assistant coach Ian Tracey just blows smoke up his ass instead of telling him what’s going on. Pretty soon Runte has convinced Abrahamson to issue a statement taking the blame and, pretty soon, after Abrahamson’s headed back to his parents on the bus.
Once home, Funk starts revealing some of Abrahamson’s (still unverbalized) baggage. Dad Paul McGillion is constantly verbally abusive to Abrahamson as well as occasionally physically. The single exposition dump in the film reveals McGillion’s a bad dad because his dad was a bad military dad. Meanwhile mom Yvonne Vander Ploeg is barely present. She and Abrahamson have zero relationship, which isn’t a surprise as Abrahamson doesn’t have any relationships. There’s an implied relationship with probably sister Terri Mahon, but Funk does it all through Abrahamson looking at old pictures on his phone (in a single scene) and then holding his nephew. Probably nephew.
The film’s not exactly a waiting game to see if Abrahamson’s going to figure out what kind of trouble he’s actually in–it initially tracks his descent before he starts getting a little better after bonding with coworker Joe Buffalo. Funk doesn’t change the narrative distance until the very end, which is its own thing; otherwise, he keeps the same tone and pace throughout. Deliberate long shots of Abrahamson internalizing and processing what’s going on around him. There are some great moments from Abrahamson, even if the role itself ends up a little too thin. Turns out Funk is keeping that deliberate narrative distance so he can make some big moves in the third act.
There’s a certain cinéma vérité styling; Edo Van Breemen gets credited with the music but there’s barely any in the film. Ajla Odobasic’s editing is languorous, perfectly matching Benjamin Loeb’s sharp and deep photography. Funk goes almost two hours without ever picking up the pace, without ever going for melodrama, without ever letting a crack show in Abrahamson’s demeanor. When he does break under pressure–either just pressure or drunkenness–Funk shoots Abrahamson removed. We’re seeing him break, not watching him break. It’s a distinction in Hello Destroyer and one of the film’s greatest strengths. Funk knows how to present this story, knows how to position his actors, knows how to shoot it, knows how to cut it.
So when he gives up in the third act–after building the friendship with Buffalo for however long, it becomes just as disposable for the film as any of Abrahamson’s other relationships and the stuff with the family is kind of a MacGuffin–it’s a bit of a surprise. Funk seemingly could go on forever with the desolate slow pace, with each new reveal further revealing more about Abrahamson’s protagonist and informing the performance, only to chuck it all for an easy finish. Funk got to raise a bunch of questions and make a bunch of observations, but he doesn’t do anything with them in the end.
It’s a beautifully made film, with an exquisite performance from Abrahamson, but Funk’s ambitions are a tad more melodramatic than the film ever suggests they might be. For most of the film, Funk’s doing character revelation and development, only to switch it up entirely at the end and try to do character examination. It’s a big slip and too bad; a lot of Hello Destroyer is outstanding. Funk’s an excellent director and a capable writer. He just–artfully–uses a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel, like that artfulness can compensate for the force. And it can not.
Written and directed by Kevan Funk; director of photography, Benjamin Loeb; edited by Ajla Odobasic; music by Edo Van Breemen; production designer, Robin Tilby; produced by Daniel Domachowski and Haydn Wazelle; released by Northern Banner Releasing.
Starring Jared Abrahamson (Tyson Burr), Paul McGillion (Ron Burr), Joe Buffalo (Eric), Ben Cotton (Bill Davis), Sara Canning (Wendy Davis), Ian Tracey (Coach Aaron Weller), Maxwell Haynes (Cody MacKenzie), Yvonne Vander Ploeg (Judy Burr), and Kurt Max Runte (Coach Dale Milbury).