Interesting, dynamic and stylistically claustrophobic. James White is a character-study-style drama that was directed by veteran producer Josh Mond for his debut film about emotions. This film is depressing and could seem to lead you nowhere if you don’t look closely. It portrays such raw and uncontrolled emotion from a man who just cannot deal with his pain in a functional way.
The film follows James White, the title character played by Christopher Abbott, as he stands disconnected, drunk and on his way to his father’s funeral. As far as the narrative goes, the film uses a minimalist style never straying far from James’ fierce presence. Constantly bobbing in and out of control, he never receives the break he believes is in order. For a film about the constant looming threat of familiar death it never fears displaying the wretched depression that comes with sickness and the needs to fulfill obligations. James’ mother, a disorientingly frail performance from Cynthia Nixon, who has recently been re-diagnosed with cancer anchors the film showing the kindred spirit of a once bright flame snuffed out by the unfortunate tolls of reality.
If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, this film is relentless in its depiction of depression, almost to a fault, as each character is wrung through the mud and brought out into the light just to have the storm clouds roll in and make an even bigger mess of the situation. The immaturity brought upon by the child stuck in a man’s body that James wades through life with can be infuriating to watch as you wish for him to realize the need to mentally mature. This realization comes with the understanding that he is in the modern version of purgatory. James is literally unable to escape the torments of a lonely childhood and therefore surrounds himself with people as emotionally and mentally immature as he is.
The cinematography by Mátyás Erdély is frenzied and up-close. The film is composed of tight shots, rarely giving any of the characters room to breathe or deal with the constant stress pushing them forward. From shot to shot he ceases to give any of the characters the space they desperately need. In conjunction with the outstanding techno-piano score by Scott Mescudi (who also plays the role of James’ childhood friend Nick), the film relentlessly stirs in the mind of the viewer even as the credits begin to roll.