I looked down and without even realizing it, I’m up over 600 posts on this site now. It felt like 500 was yesterday, so thank you to everyone out there who has stuck with me. The adaptation of Delia Owens’ surprise hit novel makes for an engaging big screen experience that dabbles in murder-mystery and courtroom drama but winds up being more of a character study than an incident-based thriller.
A young, self-raised woman living alone in the marshlands of North Carolina is brought up on a first-degree murder charge when a young man she was intimately involved with turns up dead close to her home.
I did not read the novel and haven’t paid too much attention to the murder investigation that Delia Owens is currently wanted for questioning, but Olivia Newman’s sophomore feature strikes a nice balance between its character dynamics and its plot mechanisms.
Lucy Alibar’s screenplay finds its sweet spot in the areas of backstory and character development, rather than the grandiose setting of the courthouse. Of course, some of the familiar beats from courtroom dramas are present, but the most effectual elements of the story take place outside those walls. By doing so, it kept the emphasis on its lead, Kya, who isn’t one of the attorneys that customarily get to have that cinematic sparkle while working their cases for the judge and jury. That approach keeps her as a person more than a defendant and helps to build sympathy for her.
There are strong elements of feminism present in both the character and the subtext, but it also doesn’t beat the audience over the head with it. Newman and Alibar both understood this dynamic well and made sure to take the case out of its on-screen litigation and place it in mostly Kya’s perspective. It’s smart because it puts the audience at the whim of an unreliable narrator and unravels the mystery at a pace that earns its ending.
Daisy Edgar-Jones isn’t a proven box office commodity, not that she has to be, but most treatments like this come with significant star power attached. That said, the 24-year-old actress did a wonderful job anchoring a story that’s substantially mature and audiences have responded with solid box office numbers. I should also point out that Edgar-Jones doesn’t play the role of Kya alone. Jojo Regina is exceptional and has a large hand in shaping the character before passing the baton. I would have liked to see more of her in that role but we all have to grow up sometime.
The primary supporting roles belong to Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson, who play Tate and Chase respectively, and they both hit those emotional cues very well. It’s a great job of casting by David Rubin because you know who the douche is when you see him. Speaking of casting, David Strathairn is one of my favorite character actors and he works his subtle magic on the Tom Milton lawyer role while Garret Dillahunt drives the point home as the abusive father.
It was nice to see something that wasn’t a franchise film get a nice response on its opening weekend and word of mouth should help it. My first instinct was that I liked it but didn’t love it as much as some people. Telling this story in PG-13 comes with its limitations but I was invested, enjoyed it, and it’s a perfectly solid entry to the crime genre.
Recommendation: If you like crime dramas, this one is probably up your alley. See it for the character foundations and the narrative style.
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