As audience habits settle into an interim where traditional cinematic experiences are likely on hold thru year’s end, nobody should be too picky. Never mind the production value, a lot may say. If it is there, preferably at a spot that’s virtually supporting a physical theater, then it should be worth one’s time and expense. In the case of a noticeably low-budget, under-the-radar sci-fi mystery tale like The 11th Green, both are justifiably well-spent, even if the product itself leaves much to be desired. There is a very small sliver of my cinephile’s DNA that finds base guilty pleasure in a rather minimalist indie work, and it has been somewhat pleased. At least up to the point where its very eventful plot drags toward too many a left bank.
Tangled up in the mixed-up world of online commentators, Jeremy Rudd (Campbell Scott) touts himself as among the more reputable. His views are put to a moral litmus test when he’s called back home to California following his father’s passing. Dad (Monte Markham) was a career aerospace specialist, and even in death his son’s political reporting always found a way to cut under the veil of secrecy. Now after a 20-year period of estrangement, he’s suddenly responsible for the legacy within that veil, complicated by a cover-up recently unfounded by Dad’s protégé (Currie Graham). A series of vague, dirty film reels are the evidence Jeremy needs to prove a possible alien encounter within the Eisenhower administration and covered up by a respected aircraft firm as fact. Easier said than done.
Writer/director Christopher Munch (Letters from the Big Man) has sought to craft yet another tale in the department of “absurdly rewriting history”. One in a vein echoing National Treasure, or perhaps Braveheart. If one were to have, say, adapted their screenplay from a rejected script from the 90s remake of The Outer Limits and heed no mind for historical accuracy, we would have The 11th Green. Call it the cheesier antithesis to what was a more poignant, suspenseful diatribe of UFO/human relations seen earlier this year in The Vast of Night.
Munch has that level of confidence toward his actors, pushing them to tap into the more overlooked concepts of humanity, with the relatable aspects gaining just a bit more poignancy. Scott, recently seen on TV screens in House of Cards and the short-lived Soundtrack, settles back into leading-man material with dexterous ease. A bit grumpy, rather lovelorn, always curious, conflicted by the still-looming presence of his father. All while pursuing a juicy journalistic treat. A familiar plot point, but still hard not to embrace in study, even with his awkward circle of friends. His producing partner Lila (April Grace) is like a rock; his accidental love interest Laurie (Agnes Bruckner) is a confident train wreck to his integrity. And his best friend going back to school just happens to be the president on vacation, a delightfully portrayed pastiche of Mr. Obama (Leith Burke).
Mirroring Jeremy’s own tale is that of President Eisenhower (George Gerdes), in a series of flashbacks, building a better relationship with the alien individual. His presence, by virtue of a loose historical backbone not seen since the days of the old Weekly World News, is equal parts amusing and frustrating. For context’s sake, sure. It’s a nice touch, especially once members of his cabinet chime in. Best among them, his defense secretary James Forrestal (a rather underused Ian Hart). But there were moments where I was naturally questioning what his purpose was for Jeremy. Certainly, nothing more than another specter to loom over his conscience, next to his father. It takes a little time for his usefulness to shine.
In any other film with a different director, such little nuggets of frustration would grow, and my senses further dulled. With Munch, his vision works as well as it can, given the myriad obstacles before him. Its budget limitations could not be more obvious, and its story structure no less sketchy. Lacking sufficient follow-through and slowing down significantly in its third act. And yet an enjoyable ensemble, paired with an expertly captured visual atmosphere, shot by DOP Sara Garth (Fame Dogs) is enough to outweigh its missteps.
Munch, whose work had flown over my head until now, is flexing his purest cult sci-fi muscles in The 11th Green. The exact same way Neil Breen or Larry Blamire dive themselves deeply into their genre-heavy works. Three decades as an indie auteur whose mystique is as vast as his filmography. This may not be the strongest sci-fi film one may investigate during this abnormal summer season. But the one thing it does not have: a director whose curiosity to emote has easily nabbed my attention. (C-; 2.5/5 Horns Up!)
The 11th Green is available to stream via theatricalathome.com, with proceeds going to several indie theaters nationwide, Seattle playdates TBA; film not rated; 108 minutes.