xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
Can a chimpanzee learn to speak by using sign language? Yes. But in what sense does it know what it is saying? "Project Nim," a fascinating documentary, follows the life of a chimp named Nim Chimpsky as it's raised like a human baby and then shuttled from one set of "parents" and "homes" to another. The chimp emerges from this experience as a more admirable creature than many of its humans.
Nim was born in captivity in Oklahoma and taken from his mother after a few days by Herbert Terrace, a Columbia professor who recruited his student Stephanie LaFarge to be the chimp's foster mother. This was in the 1970s, which helps explain why Stephanie breast-fed Nim and allowed him to smoke pot and have the occasional beer. In his early years, Nim was a bright and affectionate child, quickly learning what would eventually grow into a vocabulary of 125 signs. He even made progress at potty training, although I doubt he ever quite saw the point.
I call Nim "he" rather than "it" because that's how his humans see him. The movie is more about how we see them. "Project Nim" is by James Marsh, who made the Oscar-winning "Man on Wire." Like Errol Morris on occasion, Marsh weaves dramatic re-creations into this film, so that sometimes we are seeing actual documentary footage, and at other times, we're seeing actors or even (although you won't notice it) animatronics. Stephanie, for example, is played by Reagan Leonard, because original doc footage of Nim's early days might well be scarce. How this substitution fits with traditional documentary ethics I will set aside. It produces a very absorbing film.
The real people depicted here don't always come across very well, especially Professor Terrace, who seems to be less hands-on with Nim than with two of his attractive research assistants, Stephanie and Laura-Ann Petitto. The foster parents, later including a hippie type, Bob Ingersoll, do love and worry about Nim, and forgive him a great deal, especially when in adolescence his natural aggression begins to grow.