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Austin Film Festival 2019: “A Patient Man” Film Review

“A Patient Man” is a dramatic thriller from writer/director Kevin Ward. It’s playing twice at the 2019 Austin Film Festival: once on Saturday, October 26, and again on Tuesday, October 29. Watch the film’s trailer below (but beware that it might give some things away).

The film follows Tom (Jonathan Mangum), a seemingly ordinary man leading a seemingly ordinary life. It’s not long before you find out pieces of his history; he’s been through a great tragedy and it’s affected him deeply. The other players in his life are simply his boss George (David Jahn), his coworker Rami (Amir Talai), his unnamed therapist (Kelsey Scott) and his friend Maya (Elaine Loh). That is, until he meets a new guy on the train named Aaron (Tate Ellington), with whom he strikes up a friendship.

For the first 30 minutes of the film, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking this is a straightforward, slice-of-life drama. Tom is a man who has been through trauma, yes, but he’s also a man with a job he isn’t passionate about and a fairly lonely life. He describes talking to others as feeling “very elementary school” and tells his therapist that “we’re all just passing time.” Plus, the interactions between Tom and his boss aren’t entirely unlike those portrayed in 1999’s “Office Space.”

But then, you catch on to the little hints that Ward has been feeding you throughout the first act. You start putting the pieces together and you realize that this is no ordinary drama. And it wasn’t a bad film before that point, but it gets so much more exciting as you wait on the edge of your seat to see just what Tom is planning to do next. Ward doesn’t spoon-feed the audience what’s happening, at least not until closer to the movie’s end. (And don’t worry — I won’t be spoiling anything.)

The narrative is told in a nonlinear fashion, but that isn’t clear at first. We get some flashbacks, which are simple snippets at first, giving almost nothing away — that’s when you’ll realize that this is no simple narrative. While this is Ward’s first feature in terms of writing and directing, he does have plenty of past experience in editing. You can tell he knows what he’s doing because “A Patient Man” never feels over-edited; each cut serves a purpose and there’s just enough there stylistically to keep things visually interesting without being distracting.

The film runs a clean 93 minutes, and if I have any large gripes with it, it’s that it ends too abruptly. It’s not that the story feels unfinished, exactly, but more that I’d like to see what happens next — and this hardly feels like a film that will get a sequel. But even though there are reveals even during the final five minutes, the story that “A Patient Man” tells is complete, and mostly satisfying. If you love dramatic thrillers, this is one to check out when you get the chance.

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