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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Master Gardener (M) - 111 minutes

Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is a remarkably gifted and meticulous gardener, who leaves nothing to chance.

 

Everything he does is planned and documented.

 

Nevertheless, his nights are plagued by flashbacks to a different time in his life.

 

Narvel leads a team of gardeners, tending the grounds of Norma Haverhill’s (Sigourney Weaver) beautiful and historic private estate, Gracewood Gardens.

 

He is busy preparing for the annual Spring Charity Auction when Ms Haverhill – a no nonsense employer – calls him in for a chat.

She asks him to engage her troubled grandniece Maya Core (Quintessa Swindell) – whom she hasn’t seen since the latter was a little girl – as an apprentice.

 

Ms Haverhill makes it clear that she had no respect for Maya’s mother, her niece, who was a drug addict.

 

It is soon established that twenty something Maya is quick on the uptake and seemingly settles well into her gardening duties.

 

That is until she has a couple of unsettling run-ins with the hard-nosed Ms Haverhill.

 

Things really begin unravelling after Maya arrives at work having been beaten up by the drug peddler that also dealt with her mother.

 

At the same time, a jealous Ms Haverhill accuses Narvel of having a sexual relationship with Maya.

 

Truth be told, age is no barrier for Ms Haverhill to have a special relationship with the conciliatory Narvel.

 

There is much on the line here as Narvel is intent on breaking Maya’s drug cycle, while his nefarious past threatens to prevent that from happening.

 

The Narvel of today is a vastly different man from the one he was more than a decade earlier.

 

And yet, he may have to use the wiles of bygone days to deal with the present.

Written and directed by Paul Schrader (The Card Counter), the measured, dramatic thriller has a mysterious and ugly underbelly.

 

It is a question of pulling back the layers, which only happens gradually.

 

The audience is left to piece together the full back story, which isn’t revealed.

 

That is a deliberate, drip-feed ploy by Schrader’s and it works well as the cues are strong enough to do so.

 

In other words, Schrader lets our respective and collective imaginations run freely.

 

Although not initially envisaged as a trilogy, Master Gardener does mark the end of three “lonely figure” films.

 

They are movies concerning characters wrestling with the past and hiding behind day jobs, waiting for something to change.

 

There was First Reformed in 2017 and The Card Counter in 2021.

 

Mind you, that kind of character first emerged in Taxi Driver (1976), which Schrader wrote as an outgrowth of the existential hero of European fiction.

 

Narvel, like so many of Schrader’s leading men, is a loner.

 

Sporting a largely poker face, Edgerton still manages to channel a range of traits, including restraint, determination and menace, as the master gardener.

 

There is an orderliness and respect about his fellow green thumbs.

 

As Ms Haverhill, Sigourney Weaver is a controlling figure, used to getting her way.

 

With her life at the crossroads, Quintessa Swindell has a magnetism about her as Maya.

 

I appreciated the plot twists and the gritty feel of the movie, which balances order with chaos.

 

Rated M, Master Gardener scores a 7½ out of 10.

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