It's amazing how much some solid writing and great performances can lift a film. A few minutes into Islander, I was ready to give up on it. One of the film's early scenes continually brought me out of the moment with distracting shots and edits. Two characters watch on in close-ups that don't feel at all organic to the wide shots in rest of the scene, in which fisherman turn in their daily catch. The visuals aren't completely amateurish by any means--certain individual shots are even quite lovely--but their clunky assembly belied the film's low budget, and I prepared to suffer through an awkward 100 minutes.
But then something surprising happened. I started to become genuinely involved in the characters, their fragile natures and uncertain futures. The small Maine island community in which the film takes place came to life, as did Eben, a troubled man played by Thomas Hildreth.
Frustrated by mainland fishermen encroaching on the island territory, Eben foolishly goes out one morning to threaten them and a tragedy occurs that forever changes his life. The bulk of the film takes place five years later, when Eben returns from exile and attempts to reassemble the life he had to leave. His wife (Amy Jo Johnson), who isn't originally from the island, has moved in with another man, and the rest of the townspeople have shunned Eben, partly based on the orders of his now-late father.
The always reliable Philip Baker Hall plays Popper, an old friend of Eben's father. Popper is a ship builder who only fishes every few days, but when he does go out, he lets Eben back on the boat to do what he loves. With the help of Popper and the island doctor, Emily (Judy Prescott), Eben manages to pick up the pieces of his life.
Hildreth produced and cowrote the film with director Ian McCrudden, and the two succeed by letting their characters be people. Once through with the initial setup, the filmmakers simply observe how they react to the difficult situations they're in. There's no false drama or forced confrontations--just a man trying to make the most of himself after losing everything and a community coming to terms with his reappearance.
The deleted scenes include a throwaway moment featuring some oldtimers sitting around talking, a sequence in which Eben goes fishing and bonds with Emily's son, Wyatt, and a scene in which Emily asks Eben about the fateful day of the accident.
The theatrical trailer is a fairly standard one that gives away as much of the movie as possible. The disc also contains trailers for other Indican Pictures releases. The audio commentary with McCrudden and Hildreth suffers from large patches of silence, made worse because the film audio is slightly out-of-synch. (This isn't an issue on the main feature track, but when entire scenes go by without comment, we might as well watch the movie, and the audio makes that more difficult.) When they do talk, they share some insights on their creative choices and shooting on location on the island, including many settings that were shot as-is, without elaborate set dressings. The information would have been better distilled into a featurette that didn't take as long to watch.