Life & Culture

Master Gardener review: An unconvincing portrayal of women

Director Paul Schrader's latest exploration of modern masculinity sees a taciturn horticulturist reflecting on his dark past


Master Gardener
Cert: 15 | ★✩✩✩✩

The latest film from Paul Schrader finds the legendary writer-director riffing on the same male-centric themes we’ve come to expect from him over the past five decades.

Known, among other things, for his work alongside Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Schrader has spent the last few years exploring modern masculinity in an unofficial trilogy. Parts one and two were First Reformed and The Card Counter, and Master Gardener is the finale.

It follows the unsettled life of taciturn horticulturist Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) as he reflects on a dark past.

Tasked with tending the grounds of a beautiful estate owned by a wealthy ailing dowager Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver), the troubled gardener is also often expected to tend to his boss’s more intimate desires without complaint.

When he’s told to take on Norma’s recovering addict great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell) as an apprentice, it’s the fillip for some painful soul-searching.

Maya is biracial and in a redemptive attempt to atone for his white-supremacist past, he vows to protect her when she is threatened by a drug gang.

There is something about Schrader’s film that feels a little too pleased with its pretty obvious Nazi imagery.

Narvel’s sharp SS-style haircut and crisp button-up shirts often edge towards exploitation territory, and I find it very hard to believe that this is somehow an accident.

But it is Schrader’s inability to offer any kind of believable interactions with his female characters that really lets the film down.

While there are undeniably some great performances here — Edgerton is clearly incapable of producing a single bad performance — there is too much about this film that feels ill-judged both socially and politically.

Conclusion? I wish Master Gardener had the wit and courage of Schrader ’s earlier works, instead of relying on some half-baked ideas about masculinity, race and age-gap romance.

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