Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Leave The World Behind succeeds from the performances of Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali

After dabbling in television for the last decade with the hit shows Mr. Robot and Homecoming, director Sam Esmail returns to features for his latest project, Leave The World Behind. The film is an adaptation of author Rumaan Alam’s same-titled 2020 novel. Amanda (Julia Roberts) and her husband Clay (Ethan Hawke) rent a luxurious home for the weekend with their kids, Archie (Charlie Evans) and Rose (Farrah Mackenzie), who want a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Everything is going smoothly until one night; their vacation is upended when two strangers, the affluent and dapper G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la), arrive bearing news of a mysterious cyberattack and seek refuge in the house that they claim is theirs. The two families reckon with a looming disaster that grows more terrifying by the minute, forcing everyone to come to terms with their places in a collapsing world.

I wasn’t familiar with the source material; however, doing my due diligence with some background research, I discovered a few things. Those who have read the novel should be aware that the ending is altered from the book, and the character of Ruth has been changed from G.H.’s wife to his daughter.

At its core, the film is drama mixed with a post-apocalyptic thriller, and Esmail employs familiar tropes to set the stage for the story. One of the things that immediately caught my attention was the scene where Julia Roberts’ character was seen grooving to a track from Blackstreet’s 1996 sophomore album, Another Level, which added a touch of nostalgia to the film and made it relatable.

Esmail portrays the family as a typical nuclear family. However, Julia’s character comes across as a bit of a “Karen,” while Hawke’s character is more laid back and easy-going. The kids are also depicted realistically, with the son being girl crazy and the daughter being obsessed with the show Friends.

The film begins to find its footing when G.H. and Ruth show up. Naturally, Amanda is more hesitant to let someone come into the house, and I commend Esmail for successfully exploring class themes without overly using race as the backdrop. Both Oscar winners Ali and Roberts deliver strong performances in numerous scenes where refuses to back down while still showing the other respect.

Hawke and Myha’la also deliver capable performances. Hawke has a great moment when he realizes he isn’t as free-spirited as he thinks when there’s pending doom, while Myha’la has moments with both Hawke and Roberts as highly educated twenty, something who may be somewhat more rational than the adults. Sadly, the characters of Archie and Rose are underwritten for my tastes and could have added more to the overall narrative.

To those expecting an effects-driven spectacle, this isn’t that kind of film. There is a scene in the film’s second half that finds Hawke and Ali in peril on separate sides of the town, which is very well edited, however. I can also see some casual viewers having issues with the ending and run time. I took these choices as director Sam Esmail wanted to focus on relationships and what happens when the clutch of technology is stripped away.

Leave The World Behind is a character-driven thriller worth watching, thanks to the winning performances of its veteran actors.

Final Grade: B

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