“The Problem of the Hero,” directed by Shaun Dozier, is a thought-provoking exploration of the boundaries of storytelling, creative agency, and the moral implications of portraying experiences outside one’s own. The film, with its unique approach, delves into the complexities of these themes, offering viewers a distinctive cinematic experience.
The film, set in 1941 at the St. James Theatre in New York, is about two 20th-century literary giants, groundbreaking author Richard Wright (played by J. Mardrice Henderson) and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green (played by David Zum Brunnen).
The film details how these two are collaborating on adapting Wright’s best-selling book, Native Son, into a Broadway play.
Days from opening night, they differ over a single page of the script. The difference of opinion evolves into a spirited contention over issues of race, social justice, politics, and personal & creative agency. The argument threatens to dissolve their friendship and possibly ruin their chances of putting together a successful play.
My initial thoughts upon starting the film were different from what I expected. At first glance, it seemed like a documentary or a hybrid of documentary and feature film, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that this is a feature film, albeit with a distinct style that challenges conventional narrative expectations.
One of the most prominent aspects of “The Problem of the Hero” is its heavy reliance on dialogue. The drama in the film is deeply rooted in the exchanges between the characters, and this dialogue-heavy approach may require some patience from the audience. It’s a deliberate choice that engages viewers in a philosophical discourse about storytelling and cultural representation. While it may take some time to grasp and appreciate the depth of the conversations fully, it ultimately adds a layer of intellectual engagement to the viewing experience.
Although that might not work for everyone, that is essentially the essence of the film. Its theme of literature and theatre makes it even more justifiable that it would be dialogue-heavy.
The film’s runtime is approximately 1 hour and 25 minutes, but it feels longer than that. This elongated perception of time is likely due to the extensive dialogues and the thought-provoking nature of the discussions. While the film’s pacing may feel slow to some, it allows for a more profound exploration of the central themes.
The entire film unfolds within the confines of the St. James Theatre, where the characters, most notably Richard Wright and Paul Green, grapple with their creative and ethical differences. This setting creates a sense of intimacy and immersion, as the audience is essentially a part of this intense debate within the theatre’s walls.
Talentwise, Hendeson and Brunnen hold the entire film with their performance and delivery. They both succinctly deliver in the speaking style that befits the period the film is set in.
One intriguing aspect of the film is the blurring of lines between what is part of the play itself and the rehearsals leading up to it. This deliberate ambiguity challenges the viewer to question where reality ends, and the performance begins, mirroring the central theme of authenticity in storytelling. This ambiguity adds depth to the narrative and forces the audience to contemplate the intricate relationship between fiction and reality.
The film’s dialogue is not only heavy but also profoundly impactful. It tackles a range of fascinating subject matters, with a particular emphasis on race and cultural appropriation. The central conflict between the characters, Richard and Paul, reflects the broader societal debate about who has the right to tell specific stories and whether it’s ethical for storytellers to portray experiences outside their own. The film doesn’t provide clear answers but instead invites the audience to consider these complex questions for themselves.
Besides that, it visually doesn’t beg for anything more than it serves. The shots are decently well-lit for a 1940s-era theatre setting, with limited need for anything complex or overly artsy.
I will rate this film for its story, themes and overall execution. It only misses out on being a film that is entertaining enough that you want to see it repeatedly.
“The Problem of the Hero” is a unique and thought-provoking film that challenges traditional storytelling conventions. While it may require patience due to its dialogue-heavy nature and deliberate pacing, it offers a profound exploration of vital themes such as race, cultural appropriation, and creative agency.
Ultimately, it provides a platform for engaging with essential ethical and creative questions, leaving the audience with much to ponder long after the credits roll.