Friday, January 15, 2016

Classic Movie Review: Ryan (2004)

Ryan (2004) 
Directed by: Chris Landreth.
Fearturing: Ryan Larkin, Chris Landreth.

Chris Landreth’s Ryan won an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2004, and it deserved it. This animated documentary is a special, one of a kind film that is brilliantly animated, and emotionally devastating. It tells the story of Ryan Larkin – once an Oscar nominated animator himself, who made a hand full of shorts in the 1960s that were popular and influential to generations of future animators. And then he, quite simply, disappeared from public view – falling down a rabbit hole of mental illness and substance abuse. 

Most of the movie is made up of Landreth and Larkin simply talking to each other at a long table in the cafeteria of the homeless shelter where Ryan now resides. The talk between the two of them is sad – if Landreth has had some issues himself, they are nothing compared to Larkin’s – who has destroyed his life in ways that still make him angry. The film flashes back to show some of the people in his life, and how they affected him.

Landreth’s greatest idea in the movie is to try and represent the emotional scars that both men carry as physical one. So Landreth has some dents and dings – some unnatural lines on his face from everything he has experienced. Larkin’s head, however, is barely there. He is little more than a shock of hair, glasses, one eye, a nose and a mouth. The message of the film is therefore conveyed in a powerful way – Larkin has literally destroyed himself – making him half of a man.

Ryan is an example of a filmmaking finding the perfect way to tell his story. By itself, the story of Ryan Larkin is tragic and heartbreaking – right up to the final scene where he’s on the street begging for change, which is not where you would expect an Oscar nominated animator to be. By pairing it with animation – which visualizes the Larkin’s scars, and visually represents the forces from within him that constrained his work, it simply ups the ante on the film itself. By itself, the animation is brilliant – but when paired with this story it becomes even better.

Landreth clearly takes his time with his animated shorts. He made his debut short back in 1995 – and including Ryan, has made five shorts over the 20 years. His other shorts are all good – not as good as Ryan, but still. The End (1995) is both a send up of pretentious student films, and kind of one itself, Bingo (1998) is a surreal nightmare of a film where a man is harassed by circus performers who convince him he’s a clown. The Spine (2009) is a surreal love story that has a premise I don’t buy, but looks amazing. His most recent is Subconscious Password (2013) is a journey through the main characters mind as he tries to remember the name of a casual acquaintance.

While those films are good – Ryan is great. Here he found the perfect blend of subject matter and style – and he made one of the great animated shorts in recent years.

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