Not rated, but there is a little violence
Written by Jared and Jerusha Hess
Directed by Jared Hess
Starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jermaine Clement, Danny McBride and more
The secret to watchable satire is just enough real emotion to keep you caring about the characters.
"Don Verdean," the new movie from "Napoleon Dynamite" director Jared Hess, strikes that balance surprisingly well. The story of a Biblical archeologist who keeps making terrible decisions with the best intentions is a ridiculous, often hilarious look at media frenzy, fame, and the wilder aspects of competitive religion. At the same time, it's an oddly sweet look at a man who realizes what matters most to him only after he gets lost for awhile.
The titular character, played by Sam Rockwell, is a Biblical archeologist far more interested in spinning faith promoting stories about the artifacts he finds than doing serious archeological work. His popularity wanes, but when a megachurch wants to sponsor his digs he's given a second chance. When that chance becomes full of demands for new and bigger artifacts, however, the situation rapidly spins out of control.
Rockwell is excellent as Verdean, giving the character just the right amount of arrogance and desperation to not quite mask a surprisingly good heart. Jermaine Clement is hilarious and strange as one of Verdean's assistants that lets his desire for the good life run away from him. Amy Ryan, as Verdean's other assistant, is sweet and naive without ever sacrificing the character's dignity.
Since the movie's already been picked up by Lionsgate – a sale that happened before the festival even started – it'll be released in theaters sometime this year. When it does, local audiences will have a fun round of "spot the Utah shooting location." There's nothing too obvious – they never specify exactly where the movie is set – though there are a couple of specific Utah name drops that got chuckles out of the screening audience.