The Reel Review
The meticulously crafted life of a gardener at a Louisiana estate is upended when his wealthy employer asks him to train her late niece’s troubled daughter as an apprentice. Written and directed by Paul Schrader (The Card Counter, First Reformed, American Gigolo), this dramatic thriller stars Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver.
Schrader’s frequent go-to theme, character portraits of individuals haunted by their pasts, benefits from a stronger, more plot-driven treatment this go ’round. A series of flashbacks reveals our horticulturist-in-residence has a violent, sinister past, making his burgeoning relationship with his new apprentice particularly troublesome. Edgerton dominates every scene as the conflicted gardener, with Weaver particularly chilling as the vindictive, controlling estate owner who treats him much like how she treats her dog. The manner and motive for the film’s two main female characters to view his tattoos is an interesting reflection of their own psyches.
While the film’s languid pace and surreal arthouse imagery may be a bit too slow and trippy for some viewers, for those who can appreciate such things while also taking notice of the film’s symbolism and themes of redemption, the message of Master Gardener – that our past does not necessarily define our future – is well done.
• Zendaya was Paul Schrader’s first choice to play Maya, but they couldn’t agree on how much she would be paid for the role.
• The slicked down, high and tight haircut Joel Edgerton wears in the film was popular with the WWII-era Nazis and is popular among modern day right-wing fascists and white supremacists.
• Master Gardener was filmed in St. Francisville, Louisiana and New Orleans.