Sheriff [James L. Adams, UK, 2019]
Young boy, Joshua, is obsessed with the culture of Westerns – the films, the toys, the guns and, perhaps most of all, the sheriff’s badge. What starts off as a day of watching old classic movies, soon turns into a day of moral dilemmas and soul searching, as the boy is forced to ponder his present familial ties in the absence of a father figure.
Sheriff is a film that wants to genre blend. At times it is a comedic pastiche, at others, a heartfelt family drama. Achieving this kind of generic identity splicing is a huge challenge for filmmakers of all standings, and Sheriff does well to give itself a fighting chance through a variety of techniques.
The first is the short’s well-chosen selection of music, which helps remind the viewer of its Western traditions and assists in grounding the tone of the piece. The second is its adept use of comedy early on to help the viewer adhere to the filmmaker’s capabilities and chosen tone. Still inside their block of flats, Joshua’s more brutish brother, Matthew, begs him, “don’t bring the fucking hat”, only for us to straight away cut to a shot of Joshua sauntering down the street, scalp adorned with his classic Sheriff’s hat. This comedic tone is implemented again at the close of the film, to give the piece a well-appreciated sense of tonal variation.
As viewers, we know that Joshua and Matthew’s father is in prison, and judging from the implications of a gun under his bed, possibly in prison for a lengthy stint. Whether through Joshua’s odd eccentricities and his desperate attempts at escapism into the security of Hollywood film, or through Matthew’s hard-as-nails alter ego, we see the collapse of their family structure has affected both boys deeply. Unfortunately, we are never fully able to connect with Joshua’s struggle, partly as a result of the script, and partly as a result of pacing. We are only afforded a few seconds at the opening of Joshua on his own, before his brother bursts in. As a result we are unable to fully appreciate his personality, his perceived loneliness, and the extent of his obsession with Western culture. A little more patience here could have really helped the viewer connect with Joshua’s story from the get go.
Likewise, the script and acting performances tend to distract from the intended naturalism of the piece, making it difficult to connect with Joshua’s hardships. His declaration that he just wants “to be a normal stupid boy, with a normal stupid life” force feed his dilemma to the viewer, as opposed to letting us fill in the gaps ourselves and go on a journey with Joshua. The same thing happens again, when Joshua is pointing his father’s gun at a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper instantly asks, “is that thing his?” As intelligent, film literate audiences, we are already able to infer that if Joshua has found a gun in a bedroom of the house, and his father is in prison, that the gun may be his father’s; we don’t need our hands to be held quite so tightly as we are led.
Sheriff is a touching film about the death of innocence and the importance of strong father figures. Unfortunately, it is often muddled tonally, with a script and performances that fail to live up to the sincerity of the original premise.
‘Sheriff’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.