FEATURE FILM REVIEW
OAK ON THE OUTSIDE
A gifted PhD. in Psychology ventures out to help a traumatized veteran where she discovers a war on child trafficking.
It begins with a stream of horrific headlines that we've all become too familiar with reading - and a brutal reminder of the fact that "approximately 8 million children are reported missing every year worldwide." We follow the journey of Rebecca, played by Gaia Passaler, as a young psychologist in training that is a remarkable smartass, but admirably determined to make the world a better place. For the modern-day era, she's considerably 'old-school' in the sense that you'll see pencils lined up on her desk while she completes her notes on a typewriter. There are significant wins in this film for sure, which certainly includes a ton of the dialog, and in general, I thought this movie was shot very well. "Oak On The Outside" has many good intentions but proceeds to get a little lost along the way.
... LOVE IS KNOWN TO SHOW UP AT THE MOST RANDOM TIMES IN LIFE.
Characters like Skylar are stunningly well crafted and important to what "Oak On The Outside" has to say as a film, and storylines like what we learn about The Colonel and who he is are really well conceived. Captain Eli Stone, who is ultimately the reason for Rebecca's assignment, is gruff when we meet him, has clearly been through his share of traumatic experiences, and yet still seems like the immediate kind of character that can be instantly recognized as a love interest - that carries a whole lot of issues around.
There are also a few stranger folks in this movie that end up being used to advance the plot that I wasn't all that sure quite fit the storyline…notably, there are a couple of ranch hands that work for The Colonel in a place that is essentially filled with people of pure hearts and intent, that get fired and turn real bad real quick. Perhaps it just goes to show that even in some of the best places with the best people, there can still be a few terrible ones that fly under the radar somehow, eluding those that should know better and be able to recognize their sort straight away. I suppose only writer/director Adrian Roman would know for sure whether that was a misstep in the script, a simple plot device that he's hoping no one really reads too much into, or a purposeful part of the story that was necessary. To me, that area of the film seemed a bit inconsistent with the characters we've learned about - and the setting where this story takes place, but I do realize how that's an important aspect of what moves the plotline further forward. Does it make the most sense for this movie to start twisting into the romantic direction that it goes into when considering the serious content that it began with - and the whole theme of missing children? I'm gonna be completely honest with you – it feels like an extremely strange choice that Roman has made. Again, to be fair, love is known to show up at the most random times in life, and you don't always find it makes itself known in what we'd consider to be the most appropriate places – this movie is proof.
IF THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOVE STORY, IT'S TOLD IN THE STRANGEST OF WAYS...
The longer it plays on, the more "Oak On The Outside" seems to disconnect from its original intentions, which is a concern. If it's about missing children or trying to heal past traumas, then it really shifts away from that. If it's supposed to be a love story, it's told in the strangest of ways and in a weird setting to have chosen… I'm not sure how else to put it other than as straight-ahead as I can say it. While the characters struggle with their situation, we struggle to understand whether the film is going to be on the side of old-school values that advocate more on behalf of vigilante justice versus the system of law and order - and whether or not all those years that Rebecca would have studied to be a therapist even matter. Objectively, from the outside looking in, I'd honestly tell you that it doesn't seem like Roman has a very high opinion of real psychology and/or what therapy can accomplish, or at the very least, believes that love can simply conquer all. I'd be the first to tell you that "Oak On The Outside" seemed to become more complex than it needed to be, without any real justification as to why that is.
THERE ARE LOTS OF SOLID CHARACTERS, THERE IS EXCELLENT DIALOG ALONG THE WAY, AND EVEN SOME GREAT MOMENTS OF COMEDY THREADED INTO THE STORY...
I'm going to admit I felt a bit flustered with "Oak On The Outside" in the sense that I feel like it tried to do a bit too much without going into the real details as to why it deviates so far from so many of its main plot points. "This isn't the way things were supposed to go," as Rebecca herself says, and believe me, I feel the same way about where this movie ended up from where it started. Again, to be completely fair to Roman's film, even despite that feeling, I found this to be completely watchable at the heart of it – and major credit deserves to go to Passaler, Brandon Scott Hughes (as Eli), and the film's most unsung hero in young star Julie Howell (as Skylar) for ultimately making it that way.
It feels best to meet this movie in the middle rating-wise – there are lots of solid characters, there is excellent dialog along the way, and even some great moments of comedy threaded into this story, and there's a definite point of view put across about the debate between taking justice into our own hands, or continuing to let a broken system attempt to try and fix major problems it has been ignoring. While some of that comes across strongly, there are several points that get lost as "Oak On The Outside" tries to balance itself between being dedicated to its serious moments of drama and being a dreamy love story. All-in-all, I've gotta give this movie two and a half stars out of five for keeping me every bit as entertained as confused.
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