VOD film review: Columbus (2017)
Ian Loring | On 23, Feb 2020
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin
It can feel very hard to be genuinely moved by media these days. TV shows and major studio films feel beholden to a need to wow audiences with twists, deaths and water-cooler moments that have an impact in the moment but don’t tend to linger in the memory. There’s an awful lot trying to grab our attention today and a lot of it is fantastic, but films just feeling real and staying with you because of that feel lacking in number. Columbus, the debut feature from Kogonada, is one such a film – and it is a marvel.
Kogonada’s way with image and sound can be seen in his video essays online, but seeing him put that to use in a story is genuinely exquisite. A tale of two people – Jin Lee (John Cho), Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) – from different worlds coming together through a shared sense of melancholy and a background in architecture doesn’t sound like a film that would wow in its imagery, but its locked-off, sedate shot composition informs much of what is being said. The framing in one scene involving characters in a hotel room seen entirely in mirrors is so compelling that it’s mind-blowing that Kogonada hasn’t made a feature before.
His obvious love of design plays out beautifully too; the film is not about the buildings the central couple find themselves drawn to, but the way they talk about them and the way they are filmed feel so satisfying that you can’t help but be compelled by them.
Kogonada is helped very much by his casting. If this film were released a decade ago when films of this scale were getting theatrical releases more often, Haley Lu Richardson would be getting the kind of buzz Jennifer Lawrence got after Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. Richardson delivers a thoroughly three-dimensional depiction of a girl who is meant for better things but won’t make the leap to do them with an intelligence and grace, which makes Jin Lee’s quick attraction to Casey an easy thing to see. Cho is also great, although his character is obviously not the film’s focus and it is great to see him just let Richardson do what she’s doing.
Mention must also be paid to the score, Hammock’s ethereal, chill and contemplative tracks fitting the mood beautifully and adding to the intense but entirely unforced charm of the material.
Columbus is an immensely strong feature that is hard to find fault with. What it aims to do it achieves with absolute precision; it will remain in the memory long after the also gorgeous credits roll at the end. Kogonada becomes an instant must-see filmmaker on his first time out.