A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
[Ed. Note - This review discusses a few scenes in detail that could be considered spoilers. You've been warned.]
We have seen countless stories of how responsibility can forge maturity in young men. People often don’t reach adulthood until they’re forced to do so by life. They don’t shake their demons because they wake one day and make that choice—it's often a decision forced upon them by rock bottom, or, in the case of the title character in Josh Mond’s stunning debut “James White,” because they cannot run away any longer. Responsibility can make adults of us all. Few films have captured that arc as cinematically as “James White.”
The film opens with loud music and an extreme close-up of its title character (Christopher Abbott), sweaty, bobbing, almost closing his eyes. He’s messed up; drinking, talking, and stumbling through the halls of a club. He downs another alcoholic beverage and stumbles onto the street to reveal daylight, a major city going through its day. He’s probably been there all night. And he’s going to a Shiva service at his mother’s house for his recently-deceased father. Even he looks a little ashamed at his lack of responsibility. The death of James’ estranged father will not be the event that shakes him from his destructive patterns. They weren’t close—he meets his father’s new wife for the first time after his death—and he’s not ready to break free. Between sittings, he yells at a woman at a bar, gets into a fight, and goes clubbing again, hooking up with someone new. Then it’s back to the grief. This is James’ life—cycles of pain and doing anything to numb that pain.
We can tell early on that James is close to his mother (Cynthia Nixon). He has been with her before as she has undergone cancer treatments, but she seems better now. He tells her that he’s going to Mexico to get his shit together after his father’s death, and he’ll come back a new man. While he seems to be recovering south of the border, he starts seeing a young tourist named Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), but is forced to return early when his mother’s cancer resurfaces. They’ve been through this before, but something in her eyes looks different this time.