Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Experiencing rage and anger serves as a natural response within human emotion, but the way it physically manifests makes a difference. That decides the fate of the characters within the Williams family unit and of the people around them.
Loved and respected by all, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has a girlfriend he loves and a sport where he excels. He lives a privileged life with affluent parents and everything he needs to succeed. His father, Arnold (Sterling K. Brown) always pushes Tyler to be better and be a good man. Then there’s Tyler’s sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), who always displays compassion and love to her family despite her struggles. All three have aspects of their lives deteriorate as Tyler’s future becomes less bright throughout the story.
In my experience, never has there been a film of two halves so different in style and quality. Purposefully put together by director Trey Edward Shults for emotional assault. The first half of Waves focuses on Tyler’s story of falling apart physically and with his girlfriend (Alexa Demie). It’s purely visceral storytelling with a soundtrack that follows his actions with unstoppable intensity. The character of Tyler forces his way into each frame as he witnesses his once bright future fall apart. Then the narrative shifts to Emily with a much more contemplative story and pacing along with it. Seeing it as a whole, Shults attempted a great technique but the pacing difference turns out to be too stark. A film with a 135-minute runtime feels like it drags to its conclusion with many moments that could have ended the narrative well passing by for more unnecessary elements.
The directorial choices of Shults demonstrate his style from the 360-degree shots when in the car to show the young excitement of the characters to the dreaded tracking shot at a party. His stylistic choices work and serve each half of the story with how dynamic or static the camera became around the character. The camera reacts to Emily and Tyler in a different way because the audience surely will as well.
With the direction of Shults, comes the incredible acting by the cast. Kelvin Harrison Jr has had a meteoric rise in his stardom with his performance in this film and Luce. He has a physicality and intellectual weight to his performances that continue to make him take on complicated roles. The rage he channels through the character of Tyler almost frightened me with how he shifts in his emotions. Taylor Russell as Emily shows a more internalized rage she must work through, as this performance will serve as a breakout for her. While the second half of the film disappointed, Russell carries it because the audience connects with her character, Emily, and the pain she endured because of the men in her life. Both of them stitched together broken characters and made them whole with their performances. Of course, Sterling K. Brown portraying their father, Ronald, did not disappoint as he once again delivers a tremendous performance. Brown must balance a character that feels supportive but has intense anger to him that never allows the audience to relax whenever he interacts with Tyler.
Thematically, this film tries to find forgiveness from pain caused by others. It appears with Tyler’s relationship with his girlfriend, Ronald with his wife, and Emily with the two men in her life. Forgiving someone forces you to confront the pain caused by the other and further makes it real. Nothing easy about it but something that can create closure. At its heart, Waves takes on that pain and how it can destroy a family unit from the inside. The entire second half focuses and meditates on this idea, but does not execute it in the best way possible.
Before experiencing this film, I would caution that based on the promotional material and this review, you might not be prepared for the intensity of sequences that occur throughout the story. There are moments where you would want to look away because they happen so abruptly to these characters. Besides that, Waves has plenty to offer on its themes and the open discussion Trey Edward Shults seeks to have. Everyone should chime in on this discussion because it connects with a strong emotion every person possesses.