Dallas Roberts and Jeremy Renner star in INGENIOUS, directed by Jeff Balsmeyer.

Ingenious (2009, Jeff Balsmeyer)

Ingenious is a struggling artist picture, only the struggling artist in question (Dallas Roberts) is a tchotchke designer, not a painter.

The film mostly centers on Roberts, but also his sidekick (Jeremy Renner as the somewhat dangerous comic relief) and long-suffering wife (Ayelet Zurer). It’s a little unclear why director Balsmeyer and writer Mike Cram give so much attention to Renner and Zurer at first, because Ingenious does everything in a single stroke. There are no subplots per se. As the narrative perturbs, there is some branching out, but not a subplot. Even though Roberts (sparingly) narrates the film, he’s its opaquest character.

Just over halfway through, it becomes clear why Zurer gets so much attention. And Renner is Ingenious‘s only steam valve. He makes Roberts more likable because even if Roberts is irresponsible, Renner’s worse. But still endearing.

Balsmeyer and Cram really know how to use Renner in scenes too. He’s quiet, then starts to boil and make Roberts (and the viewer) cringe. When he finally does shut up and listen, it’s one of Ingenious‘s most profound moments.

Roberts is excellent in the lead, maintaining likability even when his choices are bad, but Zurer runs away with it all. Her character has the strongest arc and, thanks to Zurer’s performance, Balsmeyer is able to get away with what would otherwise be a cheap finish. Zurer brings so much gravity to the film, it’s impossible to read the end as airy.

Ingenious is subtle and quite good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Balsmeyer; written by Mike Cram; director of photography, Geoffrey Hall; edited by Suresh Ayyar, Gavin Whalen and Marcus D’Arcy; music by Howe Gelb; production designer, Kim Buddee; produced by Cram, Tim Flood and Brian Neufang.

Starring Dallas Roberts (Matt), Jeremy Renner (Sam), Ayelet Zurer (Gina), Marguerite Moreau (Cinda), Eddie Jemison (Bean), Judith Scott (Rita), Amanda Anka (Louisa), Debby Rosenthal (Brenda) and Richard Kind (Newkin).

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