When adapting literature for the screen, a lot of effort has to be taken in order to make it a successful juncture. While a movie should be faithful to its source material, it shouldn’t do so in the face of creating an engaging film. Some authors more than others have books that are well suited for the screen (Stephen King, Tom Clancy, etc), but what about those who don’t? Can you make an entertaining film from a deliberately “dry” novel? Indignation certainly tries.
Based on a novel by famed American author Philip Roth, the film is centred around Marcus Messner (played by Logan Lerman) who sets off from his family home in Newark, New Jersey to study at a small college in Ohio in the early 1950’s. Whilst there, he becomes infatuated with Olivia (portrayed by Sarah Gadon) who challenges his sense of morality and understanding of the opposite sex. The film also concerns Marcus’ issues with connecting to other students at the college, resulting in intervention from the college’s dean (Tracy Letts).
Considering the less than spectacular relationship Roth’s novels have had with the silver screen, Indignation is the exception to the rule. The film uses the characters as the main driving force of the film, bolstered by the solid performances of a mostly young ensemble. Coupled with the faithful period recreation, from the costumes to the shooting locations, it really adds to the immersion of the story, really putting the viewer into the personal world of these characters.
Where the film falls off, however, is the pedestrian approach it can sometimes take in terms of filmmaking. There is a meddlesome use of montages throughout the film which feel out of place within the more serious approach the rest of the film takes. The film also rarely strays from scenes usually involving two people talking in a room, which really just comes with the territory of the novel. However, it made the film feel more fitting as a stage production rather than a movie.
Despite this, the film is certainly more engaging than you’d expect. Even at nearly two hours running time, the film felt as if it wasted none of its 110 minutes. While it may not be the most action packed film, it’s refreshing to have a film more deeply invested in the characters rather than the plot. If you’re looking for a more intelligent and human based film than the majority of cinema fare nowadays, Indignation will certainly scratch that itch, even if its approach is just as dated as its setting.