By Jonathon Potochnic

Citizen Jane Narrative Films

Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly stated that “In the Radiant City” tried to emulate “Manchester by the Sea.” “In the Radiant City” was shot before the release of “Manchester by the Sea.”

“In the Radiant City” was screened at the 2017 Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Spoilers follow for “In the Radiant City.”

“In the Radiant City” follows a brother played by Michael Abbott Jr. as he struggles to communicate with a family devastated by a significant tragedy. Everyone in the local community knows what happened. The fire. A child dies. The unlikable protagonist moves towns and finds a job as a crab fisherman working in New England. Through the narrative, pieces of the crime are supplied to the audience in a patient manner.

If this feels familiar, that’s because it is. Within minutes of the introduction of “In the Radiant City,” I felt constantly reminded of Kenneth Lonergan’s pantheon of a drama “Manchester by the Sea.” While the film veers off to a location in Kentucky following this introduction, I never stopped drawing connections between the two, which is a very bad thing.

While it should be noted that “In the Radiant City” was shot before “Manchester,” the latter film debuted at film festivals first. This has been seen many times in larger film industry production as well. Two inadvertently similar films debuting roughly around the same time often cast one of the two in a shadow. The competitive nature of this similarity guarantees that the more well-received film will be the more regarded one, while the other seemingly lacks originality in the eyes of general audiences.

I do believe “In the Radiant City” has a decent story with some good performances. I was impressed with the acting on display here, especially from the previously mentioned Abbott Jr. Celia Weston gives a strong performance as well in the role of a grandmother. I found the writing for these characters to be strong, but the writing for the overall narrative was a bit of a disappointment.

“Radiant City” loses its message and important tragic plot point in a confusing and strange narrative structure. I can’t say that the important plot point pivotal to this narrative’s storyline is fully explored. This is a colossal flaw that frustrated me throughout the runtime and only became worse after the credits rolled. Audiences must be rewarded for their patience for the film to truly leave any mark, and “In the Radiant City” misses the mark here completely. The movies teases flashbacks to the event, but it’s never fully contextualized. This surprising stumble in the screenplay mitigates the strong acting on display, which is a shame. Audiences, instead of honoring these powerful performances, are left to wrestle with a perplexing narrative.

The camera work is commendable and I appreciated the shot selection. The imagery specifically in the flashback sequences was well presented and interesting. The score is serviceable, not drawing attention to itself and not harming the viewing experience in anyway. The area I found praise-worthy on the technical side of things was the sound design. So often in lower budget films, sound design is put on a backburner. The sound mixing elevates “In the Radiant City” above many films in a production regard and I was pretty happy with this area of emphasis. It made scenes more perceptible and buttressed the already-strong acting.

With admirable acting and exceptional production values, “In the Radiant City” isn’t a terrible film. The painful similarities to better films hurt and the screenplay at the heart of the movie softens the impact. Nonetheless, the small areas of detail, acting and superb filmmaking fundamentals have this film closer to a mixed bag than a complete flop.

5.8/10. Mediocre.

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