Back in 2015, The Shammasian Brothers brought their stunning directorial debut The Pyramid Texts to the Edinburgh Film Festival to much acclaim. This year, the pair return with their much sought after sophomore picture: Romans.
Back in 2008, Ludwig and Paul Shammasian teamed up with writer Geoff Thompson (with whom the brothers have a good history with) for the short film Romans 12:20. Taking that same story and adapting it for the big-screen, our subject in this feature-length character study is the tortured Malky (Orlando Bloom). Tasked with the demolition of the town’s old church, Malky finds his tormented past come rushing back to him when the priest from his childhood (James Smilie) returns to the town - and, for our leading man, the memories of a harrowing sexual abuse at his hands with him. Riddled with self-guilt and rage, this sets Malky on a dark path of self-destruction to his life and those around him.
There is great weight and palpability to the story and themes at play here, and it’s something that both Shammasian Brothers understand can't be danced around lightly. What they have created with Romans is a masterclass filmmaking and storytelling achievement; a film so taut and hauntingly brilliant that will stir and evoke the deepest of emotions buried within its audience - a real, honest and bone-shakingly harrowing account of such deep-rooted and terrifying emotional pain and torment. Malky is such a tortured soul and, despite very stripped back and reserved dialogue, we can feel the years of pain he has endured. He's callous and filled with nothing but pure, seething rage - a gateway for us into his fractured soul and his abyssal, anguished past. And it’s incredibly moving stuff to watch.
He is often distant and lost to the world and those around him and Orlando Bloom delivers this pain and vacancy with such nuanced conviction in a performance that feels so raw and real. The direction often means the camera will never shy away from its actors and it puts Malky front and centre at all times, and the result from Bloom is such an emotionally complex performance, yet one that feels so subdued and reserved. There's a provocative pensiveness to the acting on display here and the actor genuinely disappears into the skin of Malky and gives this character the intensity and honesty he deserves in what is, easily, one of the finest performances from an actor of this calibre this year - if not this decade. Bloom is a genuine triumph here.
The supporting cast only anchor the sublime, plethora of remarkable character-building on display here - as well as Bloom’s pulsating performance. From a resonant Janet Montgomery as Malky’s girlfriend, forced to pick up the pieces of everything the man she loves is shattering, to Anne Reid as his kindred mother (a nice juxtaposition to the harshness and anger of Malky) and a terrific Charlie Creed-Miles as the somewhat wistful anchor holding Malky down, yearning to help him through; often forcefully guiding him, with Malky feeling so astray, and representative of the light that lies within the church too - again a nice contradiction against the darker mistrust and abuse within it that Smilie represents. The church imagery also helps anchor this point too, with the conflict of the church always on display through nuanced cinematography and an astute and lauded attention to detail that feels very necessary to the plot that only makes it all the more astute and impactful an endeavour.
VERDICT:Romans is a taut, harrowing and astounding film that offers up a plethora of masterclass work, from unequivocal filmmaking and storytelling to an astonishing Orlando Bloom.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.