The Search for Bounty (Film Review: “The Retrieval”)

A Civil War period drama that illustrates what happens when Fear trumps Morality. . . The Retrieval


SnapShot Plot

Set in 1864 against the backdrop of the Civil War, this is the morally disturbing tale of a young black boy, Will (played by newcomer Ashton Sanders) who is conscripted into service by a ruthless white bounty hunter (in a menacing turn by Bill Oberts Jr.) to ferret out escaped black slaves on whose heads valuable bounties are to be made. The plot is straightforward to the point of fable: Will and Marcus (the sneering black man Will believes is the closest thing to kin he’s got) have to walk a few days’ journey to find and retrieve a black man named Nate (in a bravura performance of dignity and restraint by Tishuan Scott), or suffer dire consequences if they fail. It’s clear that this line of work doesn’t sit easily on Will’s conscience, which is a considerable one. At his center he’s an innocent and sweet-natured boy who believes that somewhere his father is waiting for him and that he will one day make enough money to set out to rejoin him, no matter how long it takes. Little does he know that the man he is sent to ‘retrieve’ will represent the best hope for salvation that a young boy in his dismal predicament could ever hope for.



Parting Shot

A film festival favorite, The Retrieval was written, directed and edited by Chris Eska. It’s a stark and lonely dream of a movie, with brutal and violent moments that stir our imagination about a bygone era that brings shame to our collective soul. It’s also a sad, elegiac road movie (if you will) that reminded me very much of the Tom Hanks picture, The Road to Perdition in terms of the sacrificial father-son dynamic as well as the somber, doomed element to the story. I also thought this film so thought-provoking in its depiction of what must have been a peculiarly confusing period in our nation’s history, when the notion of Freedom loomed like a tantalizing yet terrifying promise to so many enslaved men, women and children who were totally ill-prepared for that brave new world of independence and possibility.

And finally, of course, this film is about Betrayal. Will’s obvious betrayal in turning in ‘his own’ people, and then an even deeper, soul-searing act of betraying his own conscience. That, and the unforgiving consequences of letting Fear silence his voice was, for me, the haunting take-away from this well made and contemplative picture.

Audio Sidebar: I suggest you take advantage of the optional English subtitle setting in Netflix, because even though the film is in American English, there’s so much mumbling and dialect that I found I was missing lots of dialogue at the beginning.

The Retrieval is Available on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:


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