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Review: 'Master Gardener' plants ideas that it doesn't harvest

"Master Gardener" stars Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Quintessa Swindell.
Credit: AP
This image released by Magnolia Pictures shows Joel Edgerton, left, and Sigourney Weaver in a scene from "Master Gardener." (Magnolia Pictures via AP)

PORTLAND, Maine — [Editor's note: This article is a critical analysis of a film and does not represent the views of NEWS CENTER Maine, but that of the author.]

For those who didn't want to go see the latest entry in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, a slow-burning crime thriller from Director Paul Schrader also hit theaters on Friday. 

The film is called "Master Gardener," and it stars Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Quintessa Swindell. 


The film opens with Edgerton's character, a rigid gardener named Narvel, narrating his thoughts as he writes in a journal. He gives audiences a rundown on the history of gardening, flower facts, and a bit of personal philosophy. 

Narvel works for a wealthy older woman who owns a large garden. Her name is Norma (Weaver), and through the film, she gradually loses her mental faculties as her health declines, resulting in dramatic outbursts and less-than-polite conversation. 

She eventually introduces Narvel to her great-niece, Maya (Swindell), and asks that he make her an apprentice gardener. 

"Master Gardner" slowly reveals that Narvel has a dark past filled with heinous crimes. But in the present, all he seems focused on is gardening, and of course, his journal. 

Eventually, Norma fires Narvel and Maya for what she perceives as improper behavior. They leave together, and each has to confront their inner demons as they try to figure out what the future has in store for them. 

Credit: AP
This image released by Magnolia Pictures shows Joel Edgerton in a scene from "Master Gardener." (Magnolia Pictures via AP)


Edgerton's performance as Narvel is the strongest part of "Master Gardener." When he's educating viewers about plants, how flowers grow, the history of soil, and the difference between French and English gardens, the movie is strangely fascinating.

His rigid demeanor and unyielding focus on bringing the best results imaginable from the land around him make for such an interesting character. 

The garden is a dynamic setting where all the possibilities for this story lie. And in the first half of "Master Gardener," Schrader plants several ideas that should bloom into satisfying character arcs and conclusions by the time the credits roll. 

But then something unfortunate happens. Narvel and Maya leave the garden. They leave the story's primary source of conflict (Norma). And that's where the story wanders into a dull myriad of bland motel rooms and common crime tropes. 

When the story finally unveils the full scope of Narvel's past, viewers will come to realize he hasn't done any penance for his prior criminal actions. Nor does he seem sorry for his horrific actions. This results in an unsatisfying character transition eclipsed by a romance between Narvel and Maya that only seems to exist because the script said it should. 

It's a further shame that Maya's only purpose in this film is to be a victim, whether it's to an abusive dealer or the drugs he gives her. And none of that is Swindell's fault, of course. It's just the dismal narrative her character was given. 

"Master Gardener" started with plenty of promise, but when it comes time for harvest, most of the ideas planted at the story's start remain buried in the ground. 

Credit: AP
This image released by Magnolia Pictures shows Quintessa Swindell in a scene from "Master Gardener." (Magnolia Pictures via AP)

Also playing this week

Vin Diesel and his family are back for another chaotic drive up the road in "Fast X." Here's the synopsis: 

"Dom Toretto and his family are targeted by the vengeful son of drug kingpin Hernan Reyes." 

To see which movies are playing at a theater near you, click here

For more movie thoughts, follow Courtney Lanning on Twitter here.

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