Rating: B

The moment I learned that the film Encounter stars Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), I was game to watch it without looking at the trailer. Directed by Michael Pearce (Beast) based on a script he co-wrote with Joe Barton (My Days of Mercy, The Ritual), the film is listed as a Sci-fi/ thriller and it begins that way with scenes of various insects invading the planet and gobbling up what is in their path. Decorated Marine Malik Kahn (Riz Ahmed) soon appears to be in a room reviewing documents and preparing for a trip to a base close by and thinks of his family. I was curious as to how the insect story was to be developed and yet the story turns to Malik’s journey to secure his two sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) from the home where they reside with their mom Piya (Janina Gavankar) and her partner Dylan (Misha Collins). The action scenes of Malik and his boys on the road are very good, but the story about the insects starts to fall by the wayside and this becomes quite the family drama and an exploration of Malik’s life in the military. The acting by Ahmed and the two child actors is excellent, engages the audience and is what makes this film good. It is a bit disappointing to anticipate the sci-fi premise and feel a bit let down after the great opening sequence. Despite the change in genre, the authentic portrayal of the father/son relationship is what makes the film worth watching.

There are very thought-provoking and timely issues within the story, especially how the military and federal law enforcement have certain procedures to follow even when they know the individual has mental health issues.

Octavia Spencer stars in her supporting role as Hattie Hayes, Malik’s parole officer, establishing the fact that the former Marine who served ten tours of duty has had some behavioral issues. Octavia Spencer is fabulous as usual in every scene, even when she doesn’t speak a word, her gaze says volumes. Spencer’s character is essential for the well being of Malik and she knows it, leaning on the stoic FBI agent Shepard West (Rory Cochrane) to be a part of the solution. This part of the script is one that I really feel stands out and timely, especially when the “family annihilator” profile is brought up by the FBI, yet the script has established he is a caring father. Her performance of this character is top notch.

Riz Ahmed’s portrayal as Mailk is to be praised for his action scenes, but also for the quiet ones as he is pensive, and his eyes relay the many emotions he is going through, especially his love for his boys. Lucian-River Chauhan (Heartland TV series) is a good pre-teen actor who authentically portrays a young boy thrust into adult duties unexpectedly and is excellent as he expresses a range of emotions and actions. His is a well written character and the actor is one to keep an eye on for future work. Aditya Geddada makes his debut in a feature film and is very impressive to carry such a dramatic role as the younger son, especially when angry or terrified. They may not receive awards now but keep an eye out.

The cinematography by Benjamin Kracun is excellent, especially with the close-up shots for the main actors, including Octavia. The framing of the final scenes, and the lighting for the end is very good.

Amazon Studios’ ENCOUNTER is available on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, December 10.

Source: Amazon Studios

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