In cinema, a clever story can triumph so-so acting, while a stellar performance can occasionally lift a humdrum plot. But there’s no need for anyone to shoulder more than their share of the weight in Cardinals, a smart, dark, Canadian crime drama from writer Grayson Moore, who co-directs with Aidan Shipley.
Sheila McCarthy shines in the role of Valerie Walker, who has just completed a 10-year sentence for a drunk driving accident in which she ran over and killed a coworker. She seems coolly unrepentant about her crime, but what is the appropriate level of remorse anyway?
She’s been home for what feels like five minutes when a knock on the door reveals Mark (Noah Reid, also excellent), the dead man’s son. Awkward conversation follows; Mark is particularly curious about what caused Valerie to swerve that day on an empty, straight road.
The cleverly paced tale introduces additional characters: Katie Boland as Valerie’s daughter; Peter MacNeill as her semi-estranged husband; and Peter Spence as the world’s least threatening parole officer. Each knows a fragment of the story, but it isn’t until about the midpoint of the film’s 84 minutes that viewers will likely put it together. (The opening scene, deliberately disjointed, offers a clue to the attentive.)
Cardinals raises deep questions about crime and punishment, justice and vengeance, and the ability of secrets to stay buried. Responsibility is the film’s watchword, and if you want to know who among the cast and crew is responsible for its quality, the answer is simple; everyone.
Cardinals opens Aug. 31 at the Lightbox in Toronto, and on demand.