The Least of These
It’s fitting, I suppose, that the original movie poster for The Least of These made the film look a little bit like a retro horror flick. In the style of that genre, this little film simply won’t die!
In April of 2007, the casting of Isaiah Washington in the lead role warranted a notice in Variety’s “Players” column—pretty good exposure for an ultra-low budget indie picture. By June of that year, with Washington’s scandalous dismissal from Grey’s Anatomy, the casting appeared not so much a coup as a curse as Washington went from “hot” to “hot potato.” But by late 2009 the film was not only in the can, it was cropping up at film festivals… and playing straight to Starz, with neither theatrical nor home video distribution. Last month, it finally bowed on DVD with little to no fanfare.
If you’ve seen the trailer (which I’ve included below), you can understand the appeal of the film’s story and script—both to producers and to audiences. Washington plays a priest with a suspect past; he has been reassigned to a boarding school with what we can only assumed is a history of pedophilia. It’s a school that Father James, said priest, himself attended as a boy. Take it from there.
The best part is that, without even having screened the film, you know it’s going to take seriously the problem of sexual abuse in the Church. And the film lives up to that expectation.
Where the film missteps, though, is that it’s made primarily from an evangelical point of view while being set in a Catholic boarding school—which makes it kind of a case of the pot trying to be all serious and stuff about the kettle’s problems, if you know what I mean. I can’t imagine that Catholic audiences would take the film terribly seriously (because the priests and students don’t seem to take their own Catholicism terribly seriously), and they might even be offended by it; and I can equally well imagine Protestants coming away thinking they’ve done their duty toward sexual abuse while smugly patting themselves on the back about being the “good” Christians… which is patently untrue. I’ve yet to see any data published on this score, but in my experience, sexual abuse is as common among Protestant pastors as among Catholic priests—or secular school teachers. Adults just have problems controlling themselves.
Adults also have a problem doing the right thing when they see it, too. (James, the brother of Jesus, called that “sin.”) Still and all, the film relies a little too heavily on Father Jennings’ observation that “the first thing you learn as a priest is how to keep secrets”—a pretty clear reference to the confidentiality of the confessional. By the time you’re a quarter of the way through this film, it’s just not credible that James (and other priests) simply sit on the information they have without either acting on it or reporting it. That may happen in real life, for various complicated reasons; but in a movie, such silence and inaction had better be motivated.
Finally, the resolution of the central mystery—Why did James’ predecessor vanish?—feels a bit too much like deus ex machina, and the mechanism is abandoned once it’s no longer useful. The film’s denouement feels like it came from a different script.
Still, this is pretty impressive filmmaking for a feature film debut. Writer/director Nathan Scoggins puts together what amounts to a dream cast of adult actors—Robert Loggia, Bob Gunton, Washington, and John Billingsley in a wryly memorable supporting role—while the youngsters cast as the school’s students do about as well as anything you’ve seen in Dead Poets Society or School Ties. Well, sort of. I don’t think we’ll see a Brendan Fraser or Ethan Hawke come out of The Least of These.
It’s pretty mindboggling, though, that this film ever saw the light of day given the crucible that resulted from Washington’s Grey’s Anatomy meltdown. Scoggins does outstanding work with his leads, and the script has not only good themes, but some excellent character twists as well. I do ultimately recommend the film—if you actually get it on DVD, one way or another, and visit the disc’s special features while you’re there. It’s amazing how Washington’s story paralleled that of the character he was playing here.
The Least of These is unrated. Given the subject matter, though, and a little bit of language, I’d put it at PG-13.
Courtesy of the film’s director, Greg screened a promotional copy of The Least of These.