How beautiful they really are. And that there’s no need to hide, or lie. And that it’s possible to talk to someone without any lies, with no sarcasms, no deceptions, no exaggerations or any of the things that people use to confuse the truth.
On this website I regularly write about films that didn’t get a cinema release and the few that don’t fit into that rule have not been financially noteworthy, barely breaking the five figure mark, and yet here I am about to review a movie that made more than £30 million worldwide in the 1990s, which was quite large at the time.
Now, I can already see the raised eyebrows asking what this is doing anywhere near this site and I’m not going to lie, I was watching this film for the first time in seven years recently and thought it would be good to review it as I didn’t think it was well known. I wrote out two pages of notes, only then to come online and see it was actually relatively well known at the time, but I’m not going to waste my effort and I don’t think that the film is well known today, so here we go.
I read an article about Jeff Goldblum today that stated that he is one of the most bankable actors in history, and it’s hard to prove that wrong given his consistency at the box office during the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve mentioned previously (in the review for Rehearsal for Murder) that Goldblum is one of my favourite actors and during the 90s he was one of the biggest. Big releases included science fiction films, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park : The Lost World and Independence Day, as well as romantic comedy Nine Months, sports drama The Great White Hype and horror Hideaway.
His career on the screen has slowed down since the late 1990s, most appearances coming in small budget films and only a few high profile ventures, including The Grand Budapest Hotel. Powder came in the middle of his run as a major Hollywood star, and even though he has a small role in this film, he fills he stereotype delightfully. More on that later.
Investigating the death of an elderly man, Sheriff Barnum (Henrikson) discovers a young albino living in the basement named Jeremy (Flanery) in the man’s basement. Jeremy’s mother had died during child birth and his father has abandoned him. His grandparents took him in but it became apparent that Jeremy had the ability to manipulate and be affected by electrical signals.
Following on from successfully convincing Jeremy to leave the home, he is placed into a boarding home where he is soon bullied due to his pale complexion. During a science lesson with the charismatic Donald (Goldblum), a Jacob’s Ladder is activated and soon shoots a constant stream of electricity into Jeremy, causing panic amongst all involved. As well as that event, Jeremy records the highest ever record IQ score, causes a hunter to feel the pain being experienced by a deer that he has shot and help Sheriff Barnum communicate with his comatose wife.
His impact on the community is met with a mixed reaction and as time goes on he starts getting threats on his life, all the time wanting to simply return to his home.
It sounds like a very strange film…
The reason it sounds strange is because it is in a way, but in a good way. Powder is a great, mysterious science fiction film that is done with respect to both the subject matter and the audience. I’ve mentioned previously that films that want to scare you whilst you’re most tense will give a sharp sound and you’re more scared by the sound rather than what you will see, and Powder respect it’s audience by not doing that sharp sound. Now, I would stress that Powder isn’t a horror film, but there are moments where they could have easily done a horror cliché and I love that.
Salva did an excellent job setting up the right atmosphere. You’re never entirely sure what is going on and it’s not spoon fed to you. That is what makes a great science fiction/mystery film. This is greatly helped by the character of Jeremy as he remains silent for large sections of the film, and the few things he does say don’t really take away from his sense of mystery. Even after watching the film again there are still so many aspects to the Jeremy of character that are shrouded in mystery that it is actually enjoyable. Early on the film it becomes obvious that a classmate is interested in his but he never acts on this, possibly due to his lack of experience with social skills.
Jeremy’s inexperience of dealing with people makes it understandable why people get frustrated and scared of him, and even when he is getting bullied it is done in a way where his refusal to answer pretty innocent questions actually encourages them to escalate their treatment of him. This continues throughout the film as his refusal to adapt to the outside world causes the concerns of many to increase, and this only continues after an incredibly emotion filled scene when Jeremy helps the sheriff communicate with his seemingly-comatose wife.
The scene is probably my favourite in the movie as the acting on display is incredible. The scene isn’t too dissimilar to when John Coffee cures the prison warden’s wife in The Green Mile, but the acting in the scene in Powder beats that for me due to the fact that the seemingly comatose wife’s interactions with the other two. Now, I say seemingly comatose because she can’t open her eyes or communicate in any way, but Jeremy’s interactions with her and his ability to read her mind allow her to communicate with the sheriff and you see her facial expressions change as the conversation changes tone on a regular basis and in the near ten minute scene you feel connected to a character who doesn’t actually say a single word during the entire film.
For me the stand out character has to be Donald, played excellently by Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum is one of the most typecasted actors in Hollywood, often playing a character who charismatic scientist of some variety, but it works. Jeff Goldblum is one of the few typecasted actors that you never get tired of watching in that role and he carries every single role as it is it his last. Jeff is an actor like no other and that’s why I have a lot of time for him, and this role is perfect for him.
He plays a science teacher and it’s one of the few times in a film with a school setting that you see the kids paying full attention, although this is obviously written into the script, Goldblum plays the role in a way that makes you understand why he has the class’ undivided attention. His unusual delivery of lines means you are transfixed by what he was saying and he makes you understand a Jacob’s Ladder, which is all down to his way of structuring sentences.
So are there any negatives about the film? Well there are some films that do well despite a lack of pacing but in some ways Powder is all over the place. There are times during the film that there are long, drawn out scenes that don’t really add a lot to the story, and yet some films that could have been longer are just skipped by very quickly, with a good example being when Jeremy is threatened with a gun by John. This scene doesn’t last very long at all but it was an interesting dynamic between a man who wants someone out of his life but isn’t entirely sure if murder is the way to go, his friend that is trying to convince him not to do it and Jeremy. This scene could really have gone on a lot longer.
Several subplots just disappear and are never referenced again and other than Jeremy, characters have long gaps between appearances and by the time they do show up again, you’ve pretty much forgotten their previous appearance if there wasn’t a major event involved.
Other than those small issues, I quite enjoyed Powder and for a mysterious science fiction film, you could do a lot worse.
A nice science fiction film that had problems with it’s release due to the stigma surrounding it’s director. Infact, the film came extremely close to not being made at all when the cast found out about the director’s past, but I’m glad that it did.
I’m not going to lie, Powder does have some problems but thankfully the way the film is made does make these problems seem relatively insignificant. Don’t go in expecting a fast paced film, it’s pretty much the exact opposite.
It’s definitely worth while though and for what it is, it is a decent enough attempt at what is a unique film.