Apprentice

| May 8, 2017

Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) works at one of the best prisons in his country.  He’s hard working, determined, and ethical, which is why he catches the eye of Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), the prison’s executioner for the past 30 years.  After Rahim’s assistant suddenly quits, he approaches Aiman about being his apprentice.  The only catch is that Rahim executed Aiman’s father many years earlier and Aiman and his sister Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad) blame him for their father’s death.

The movie reminded me of a slower Gangs of New York where instead of a Bill the Butcher type character, instead we got a Mr. Rodgers type guy who is just doing his job and executing those found guilty by a court of law, but since he’s the one actually pulling the lever, he catches the blame for killing these people.

I really like Su’s performance as Rahim.  He never discusses it, but the weight of his job after all these years seems to weigh on him.  Despite that, he is steadfast in the importance of his job and how he does it.  He can look at you, and not only know your exact height and weight, but also what length rope to use to give you the most painless death possible.  Too long and the head will pop off, too short and the victim will strangle to death slowly and horribly.  Rahim recognizes that he’s an executioner, but also refuses to be tempted to punish the men in his noose.  They’ve been found guilty, sentenced to punishment, and nothing about that says their death has to be cruel.  Rahim’s professionalism as well as his wanting a human connection with Aiman are all really great to watch.  You realize watching the movie that he can do the job  by himself, and that he’s accustomed to being by himself but having an assistant and passing on his knowledge to the potential next executioner seems to give him a deeper purpose by ensuring his methods are continued after he’s done with the job.

Rahman’s performance is less compelling to me.  At no time during the film do I understand what he’s trying to accomplish or what’s preventing him from doing that.  This just reads as apathy and I can’t abide characters who have no drive.  At first, I half expected Aiman to work to get close to Rahim and prove his father’s innocence before enacting his revenge on the man who killed him by doing his job, but that never really goes anywhere.  As Rahim’s assistant and presumptive replacement, Airman does have some interesting struggle with the notion of one day killing an innocent man, or even killing a guilty one who is leaving behind children who will grow up hating him.  In the end, you’re not sure what he’s going to do or why, and that’s maybe the most frustrating thing about this film as ambiguity is so rarely done well in any film.

Available on DVD from Film Movement on May 9.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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