By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge and Ari Millen
Written by Peter Genoway
Directed by Cody Calahan
A bar can be the perfect setting to tell a story. In THE OAK ROOM we are told several stories, and none of them quite land.
The film begins with a bartender, tending his bar. Paul (Peter Outerbridge) is working behind the stick when Steve (RJ Mitte, BREAKING BAD) comes in for more than just a drink. These two men are not of the same generation, but they have a well established issue with each other. After some verbal tussling, Steve tells Paul that he wants to tell him a story. A story from the bar The Oak Room.
We then jump to that bar for Steve to lead us through this tale. Richard (Martin Roach) stumbles into that bar, on a snowy night just like theirs, to be met with another unfriendly bartender, Michael (Ari Millen). Only these men have seemingly more sinister backstories. Richard’s hand is bleeding pretty badly, and Michael wants him out before he ever sits down. Michael then decides to tell a story from his childhood growing up at a farm, and we jump straight into that tale.
For all of the storylines and layering of these characters, THE OAK ROOM does an impressive job juggling these threads. We never quite forget which narrative we are in at any given point, which is a testament to the tight script and keen editing. The film also looks quite beautiful, especially considering nearly all of it takes place in a bar. The wide frame and neon lights from the booze signs make for a visually interesting take on what could have been a plain place. But, sadly, this is where the exceptional elements of THE OAK ROOM end.
The film is an overwhelming exercise in exposition. The relationships between storyteller and their single audience member are either told to us through straight dialogue or through an unnecessarily indulgent performance. Each of these four featured men (with the notable exception of Roach) chew through their lines and belt out their obvious character cues that do anything but endear us to them. The stories themselves are interesting enough, but shoveling through the caricatures and deliberate discussion to get there is a bit tedious. The style of talking is so widespread it is hard not to imagine it wasn’t deliberate, but in judging the rift it creates between the characters and the audience it is difficult to surmise why that choice was made.
The stories themselves, though well executed, are not nearly engaging enough to carry the entire film. Much of the film feels like the first half of the incredible PREDESTINATION, however those stories are setting the audience up for what to come, and those two characters have magnitudes more chemistry. While it is unfair to compare one film directly with another, we can at least see here that it is possible to have two people talking in a bar create intrigue and suspense. THE OAK ROOM creates neither.