The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd
Directed by Uwe Schwarzwalder | Review by Prarthana MitraFor Uwe Schwarzwalder, veteran German actor trying his hand at the direction for the first time, The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd is self-reflexively about the discovery of his own artistic self, just as much as it is the story of protagonist Jeff’s journey, across a path riddled with difficult choices. With the help of German realism and Soviet minimalism, Schwarzwalder who also plays the lead role creates a sharply political thriller replete with elements of high drama, conspiracies, crimes and tension.
Shot for the major part in Zurich, the first half of the film sets him up against the backdrop of cruising through life without worries— amidst a successful career, a holiday in Australia, retirement plans that involve running a bakery with his closest friend, and a general sense of wellbeing, numbness and apathy. A stooge of corporate capitalism, Jeff’s personal, professional and political ideologies undergo a paradigm shift after a tryst with the dark underbelly of capitalism.
When a huge investment opportunity arrives at his doorstep, in the form of Mr. Müller from Marinin Resources, Jeff succumbs to the lure of quick returns and gladly agrees to invest in order to pursue his plans of traveling down south with deep pockets. However, that was not meant to be, for his life soon turns upside down when he discovers he has not only lost all his savings but also his job after an argument with his boss.
Distraught and completely shaken by the cruel turn of events, the real malevolent nature of the system he has been a part of so far, begins to dawn on him. The distance, as they say, gives him a fresh perspective and he starts noticing for the first time in life, uprisings, revolutions and reactionary events happening all around the world— the Chilean miners’ strike against multi-national corporations, for instance, looms large at the back of his mind.
Thus begins the radicalization of Jeff Boyd.
This is also when he meets Wendy, another victim to the tyrannies of the system. They confide in each other a mutual disgust for the capitalist “vampires” who are making the world inhabitable and must be stopped at any cost. Wendy also happens to be an activist/revolutionary whom Jeff had met at a chance encounter some years ago, at a massive demonstration against the American banking plutarchy, which immediately calls to mind the Occupy Wall Street protests of the mid-00’s.
The two star-crossed rebels bond over a shared vision to rid the world of this menace, and fall hopelessly in love. Resolved to do their bit and make a bold statement against those that have wronged them, they hitch upon a dangerous plan and in this respect, the film recognizes the futility of liberal avenues of protest like marches, vigils, pamphlets, petitions and journalism, turning instead to anarchism on an individual level. It harks back to the anarchist exploits of Robin Hood, perhaps the earliest literary example of “robbing the rich to give back to the poor”; in fact later in the film, Jeff thinks aloud that he is a modern day Robin Hood.
Despite hesitation on Wendy’s part, Jeff convinces her that only a spectacular “demonstration” can unnerve the men in the high castle. The two set about plotting an elaborate kidnapping of Gregory Marinin’s mother, who as it turns out, is a victim of capitalism in her own way. Her son is a megalomaniac who has completely forgotten his Russian roots and shrugs all filial responsibilities towards his widowed mother, who has traveled all the way from Russia to spend time with her son. After Jeff and Wendy kidnap her, despite the power dynamic at play and the illegality of what they are doing, Mrs. Marinina realizes their hearts are in the right place and even proposes to help them set up a network of whistleblowers who can bring the entire system down together. This would also give her, she says, the perfect opportunity to teach her estranged son a lesson.
Although the plan sounds like the only effective option to deal with capitalism today, it is however extremely ambitious, even with Marinina’s resources. Plus, there is high-strung tension between the hostage and her kidnappers with Jeff teetering on the edge of a breakdown. We can sympathize with their cause and especially with the radicalized Jeff, who is earnest but inexperienced in such diabolic activities. Gregory soon gets wind that his mother is selling their ancestral property off, he sends a hitman after Jeff who receives a visit from Muller and learns that the investment has been profitable after all. But he refuses to abandon the mission, with disastrous consequences. The film’s final moments find him institutionalized, full of despair and hopelessness.
Jeff Boyd stands for all those who have lost something to the system and have dared to dream of a better world. The film’s aesthetic realistically approaches the delicate subject and complements its ideologies. Most striking is the alternation between color and monochrome to suggest events that have happened in the past. The opening montage of the march against banks is one of the film’s most well-shot sequences; in fact, all the outdoor shots have been memorably captured by DoP Brian Pinkus.
The dramatic score spontaneously flows from one sequence to the other and gradually acquires a life of its own. Making use of musical genres embodying the multi-national ensemble, each instrumental piece brings new meaning to the film. The OST also comprises two noteworthy songs Waiting by Amanda Ply and Fall by Brendan Gillespie, which feature in the film’s climactic moments. The Radicalization of Jeff Boyd runs for almost two hours but despite the stretch, the film is packed with intertwined subplots which come together, in the end, to bring out Jeff’s comeuppance.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.