Phoenix Film Festival Spotlight: Chris Eska's The Retrieval

If the style of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and the themes in Django: Unchained could be fused together into one movie, it might look something like The Retrieval.

Director, writer, and editor Chris Eska made the dark Civil War-era flick and it's getting buzz all across the country, winning a Special Jury Recognition for Tishuan Scott's role as Nate at South by Southwest and three Phoenix Film Festival awards.

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The film centers on a 13-year-old boy named Will (Ashton Sanders) and his caretaker Marcus (Keston John) on assignment from a bounty hunter. In one rather intense scene opening the film (shown below) the ruthless bounty hunter threatens that they travel to find a man and bring him back to be killed for his crimes or he will kill them both.

Marcus, set on saving his skin, seemingly has no moral quandaries about the task, but, upon meeting Nate, Will begins to question the rightness of their job, especially considering Nate isn't a runaway, but a freed man. While Tishuan Scott has been rightly getting recognition for his role, John's portrayal of Marcus is worth note as well. As he mentioned at the film festival, the toughest part about portraying someone as heartless as Marcus is making them more than one-dimensional.

The realism of the film as a whole is a testament to Eska's abilities as both a writer and a director, with chilling battle scenes, suspenseful dialogue exchanges and a poignant, yet tragic message. By the end of it all, you will actually care about the characters' fate and dread to know the conclusion in case it all goes badly.

The Retrieval obviously had something more than its competitors, so it was no surprise to hear that it took best director, best ensemble, and the audience award last weekend at the Phoenix Film Festival. Chris Eska is definitely one to watch.

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