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MOVIES: Palmer - Review

31 Jan 2021

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Fisher Stevens' Palmer is AppleTV+’s latest project and has the kind of budget and energy that you’d expect from a movie like Manchester by the Sea, The Way Back or Instant Family – it just about finds the right balance between the three. It has some interesting themes and acts as a paint-by-numbers redemption arc for its protagonist, Justin Timberlake’s Eddie Palmer, who has just left prison after a 12-year stint with an aim to get his life back in order, but never really goes into them with any depth as from the moment its acoustic-guitar fuelled soundtrack kicks in you know exactly where it’s going.

Justin Timberlake is a good actor – and he puts in a commited performance here as the film grapples with its crisis of masculinity and understanding of who Palmer is as a character. It’s a defining study that puts him through the wire, requiring Timberlake to act his heart out, and it’s a movie that also benefits from a strong supporting cast. Juno Temple finds herself in a role as Palmer’s next-door neighbour, a drug-addict parent who often goes away for her son leaving her with Palmer’s grandmother for long periods of time, and like every performance here it’s the kind of role that Temple could put minimal effort into and it still work but she delivers a hundred and ten per cent in what makes for a performance that isn’t nearly as getting as much attention as Timberlake’s.

You can see Temple’s commitment to the role in her eyes – the brief scenes that she’s in help give her character the two-dimensional depth that adds nuance to a very one-dimensional role. It’s an impressive cast all round, with Ryder Allen putting in a solid performance as the son in question, Sam whose identity is explored in this film once he comes under Palmer’s care in a tender and heartfelt way that feels inclusive, broad and kind – Palmer isn’t a mean movie, and most characters get some kind of redemption arc in this heart-warming drama that opts to please the crowd at every turn.

The harsh reality in Palmer’s town that he finds himself in is character-defining. He struggles to get work as an ex-con, and struggles to work on his own after the death of his grandmother leaving him alone in the world when his house might be taken away from him. Fisher Stevens’ character focus allows Timberlake to get the most out of the character and the strong acceptance theme at the heart of the movie makes it instantly appealing – with it delivering on its optimistic touches that make it warm and welcoming.

It’s interesting to see that this project has arrived on AppleTV+ as another addition to movies like Greyhound and On the Rocks, which although have been entertaining on the surface often feel light and lacking the depth required to be truly memorable – the exception of course being the stellar Wolfwalkers. There’s something similar to be said about Palmer that feels like an accomplishment in its own right; it’s no Hillbilly Elegy, thankfully – score one for AppleTV+ - but everything feels a bit too telegraphed in its approach and predictable. You’ll know what the next move of each character is going to be before they make it, and the film can’t quite escape the feeling that it almost feels like a vanity project for Timberlake – and the romance aspect between Timberlake and Alisha Wainwright feels like the weakest link, in part due to the lack of depth that the film allows Maggie Hayes. It also lacks the courage to go as deep into Palmer’s mind as a character study like the film suggests it might – Cheryl Guerriero’s script is effective in bringing tension to the table but all moments of conflict feel too brief and easily resolved.

Palmer is a movie that you’re going to have a good time with while watching it – but you’re not quite going to remember much of it by the time next the next week’s releases roll around. Its themes of identity and masculinity and the clash between multiple generations is explored, and the film is at its best as it explores the found-family dynamic that acts as the central heart of the film.

Palmer is available to stream on AppleTV+ now.