The Frontier is the directorial debut of Matt Rabinowitz, who co-wrote the picture with Carlos Colunga. Debuting at SXSW, it was put into production after being successfully crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign.
Sean (Max Gail), is a retired literature professor and civic activist who reaches out to his estranged son Tennessee (Coleman Kelly) after many years of not speaking. Many years ago, after the sudden death of his mother, Tennessee left home as a teenager and never returned. He ended up as a hand at a ranch, never re-forming a relationship with his father. Now older, Sean’s best days are behind him, so he wants to write his memoir while he can. He also wants to try and salvage his relationship with Tennessee, haunted by the possibility of leaving it all unsaid.
Tennessee is hesitant to make the trek home, initially doubtful of what good can come out of it. But something tells him to do it and he decides to make the journey home. This is just as Sean hires Nina (Anastassia Sendyk) as an assistant to help him take transcribe his thoughts for his memoir. This catches all three parties crossing equally awkward paths that leave them with no choice but to confront their issues there and then.
Rabinowitz script is one about characters spilling their heart out to one another, whether the other person likes it or not. Both Sean and Tennessee have their flaws and are equally at fault for their rocky relationship. The Frontier focuses on their ability to speak honestly to each other, to hear each other out, and most importantly, to try and forgive. Of course this is easier said than done. It takes them a few days to even break the ice, and it’s not until Nina forces them to have a heart to heart (with the help of some whiskey at their side) that they finally find a way to do so.
Veteran actor Max Gail delivers a strong performance in what is amazingly his first leading role in 30 years. The actor gives the role all the needed layers of heart and soul. It’s actually the acting debuts of both Gail and Sendyk, which caught me by surprise. Both seemed natural for the role, with each finding chemistry with each other, as well as with Gail.
It’s the debut script from both Rabinowitz and Colunga and at times it does show. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before and is somewhat safe and predictable. Even with its flaws I found it to be a solid debut that has plenty to say about the human condition. It’s a touching father and son story, one that you can connect to even if you don’t have your own set of daddy issues. We all have people who we have lost touch with for one reason or another. It’s just finding the courage to do something about it. After seeing The Frontier, it’s just making the attempt that counts.