AFI Fest 2010
By Don Simpson | November 25, 2010
Director: Kitao Sakurai
Writer(s): Kitao Sakurai
Starring: Larry Lewis, Jr., Darren Branch, Jessica Cole, Dutch Crouse, Kitao Sakurai
Larry (Larry Lewis Jr.) is a blind man who is recovering from alcoholism and trying to establish some stability in his life. One day Larry stumbles upon a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy — a martial arts form that focuses on groundwork (which is ideal for a blind man) — he commences training almost immediately and establishes a close friendship with his instructor, Darren (Darren Branch). As explained by Darren, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu relies on self-defense techniques. The purpose of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not to kill or disfigure your opponent, but to halt their attack (primarily via choke holds) long enough to be able to evade the situation.
It soon becomes very apparent that no one truly knows Darren. Dark aspects of Darren’s life are slowly disclosed to us — such as his heavy use of drugs and alcohol and involvement with a seedy underworld. Larry — along with a stripper named Candy (Jessica Cole) — eventually finds himself investigating the dark side of Darren’s life in order to get revenge. So much for the peaceful tactics he learned during his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu sessions; Larry is going for the kill!
Aardvark is a very odd duck of a film. First and foremost, why is the film even titled Aardvark? (No reason. Oh, wait, this isn’t Rubber.) Secondly, writer-director Kitao Sakurai (who recently shot Ry Russo-Young’s You Wont Miss Me) does deserve kudos for casting a lifelong blind man as Aardvark’s lead — which has to be some kind of first (at least in terms of revenge thrillers) — no matter how strange it makes the film seem.
I have to admit that I knew very little about Aardvark prior to watching it. The first act or two really convinced me that this was going to be a slow and intense character study about a blind man trying to achieve self-confidence and stability in his life. Bringing the peaceful lessons of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the story only made me more interested. I was really liking where the story seemed to be going…
I had no idea that Aardvark was going to take the drastic 180 turn in tone that it takes. Suddenly everything we learned about Larry no longer matters — except for the fact that he is blind. I kept expecting his alcoholic past to find its way back into the narrative, either to help council Darren or maybe Larry would fall off the wagon when faced with the extreme adversity of act three. It also seems strange to me that the pacifist ideals of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are so quickly dropped when push comes to shove, especially after having spent so much time in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy.
It seems Sakurai has laid out a menagerie of red herrings for us, to mislead and confuse us when the third act comes around. In my case, it worked, but Sakurai’s shrewd directorial tricks left me much more frustrated than impressed. Nonetheless, the performances of Lewis, Branch and Cole are really impressive — they are reason enough to watch Aardvark.