THE OAK ROOM movie poster | ©2021 Gravitas Ventures

THE OAK ROOM movie poster | ©2021 Gravitas Ventures

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: RJ Mitte, Ari Millen, Martin Roach, Nicholas Campbell, David Ferry, Peter Outerbridge
Writer: Peter Genoway
Director: Cody Calahan
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Release Date: April 16, 2021

THE OAK ROOM has a destination in mind. It gets there surely, but more slowly than many viewers will like.

In some ways, THE OAK ROOM feels like an homage to FARGO; in others, it seems like a filmed stage play. There are two major settings, both bars, one a redressing of the other. We get brief detours to other locations, and eventually, there’s violence, but the bulk of THE OAK ROOM is conversations and monologues, stories within stories.

We’re in Canada, north of Toronto. The landscape is dark and desolate, in the midst of a snowstorm. In a small-town bar, at 11 PM, bar owner Paul (Peter Outerbridge) is locking up for the night when Steve (RJ Mitte) enters. Steve has been gone for several years, even missing the funeral of his father, Paul’s good friend Gordon (Nicholas Campbell).

After some macho chest-thumping by Paul, Steve insists on telling the other man about what happened in another bar, the Oak Room, a week earlier. The Oak Room is in a similar small town, in the same general area. It’s definitely a bar very much like Paul’s.

However, at the Oak Room, it’s a young man called Michael (Ari Millen) who’s locking up when a stranger, Richard (Martin Roach) enters. Richard says he’s walked two miles in the snow and is freezing. Michael gives him a drink.

There are a lot of fine actors in THE OAK ROOM, and it’s easy to see why they signed on. The screenplay by Peter Genoway gives them all plenty to say and do. Director Cody Calahan does a good job of not giving the game away ahead of time. He makes good use of the relatively confined space, and maintains the claustrophobic atmosphere even when flashbacks take us outdoors.

The resemblance to FARGO comes in having characters who like to talk, some of them because they’re leading up to something big and some of them because they just like the sound of their own voices.

On one level, this keeps us guessing. On another level, audience members may have less patience with the tales than the onscreen listeners do. Working backwards (as THE OAK ROOM does itself in places), we can work out why specific narratives are drawn out, but we can’t quite invest in them.

Mitte does persuade us of Steve’s enthusiasm for what he has to say, while still preserving an underlying melancholy. Outerbridge is hearty and righteous. Millen, Roach, Campbell, and David Ferry (as another bartender) all give adroit performances.

THE OAK ROOM is also reminiscent of THE TWILIGHT ZONE in some ways, in terms of both its twists and its economic production. The movie might have benefitted from either a few more twists, or a bit more brevity in its execution.

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