CATEGORIES Drama, Independent, Tribeca, Theatrical Reviews, Cinematical Indie, Reviews, Tribeca Film Festival, CinematicalMentor is the debut feature from David Carl Lang (or David Langlitz, as he appears to be known in his movie life), a man who happens to have spent the last two decades as the principle trombonist for New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, a position he still holds. In 1998, Lang’s short, Angel Passing, about a concert pianist, was shown at Sundance and other festivals and won a handful of awards, but Mentor is his first work since. Starring Rutger Hauer as Sanford Pollard, a professor who grows too close to two of his students, Mentor is also pretentious and self-indulgent.
From its opening moments, you sense that Mentor is doomed. That first scene begins with a close-up of Hauer’s unshaven face, as he tells someone -- obviously a student -- that he doesn’t like the work he’s just read. In response, the student angrily begins talking about personal motives, and love, and it’s obvious that the two have a relationship that goes beyond traditional mentorship. It’s also obvious, however, how trite and contrived the screenplay is, and that the acting is not good enough to rise above its weaknesses.
The story Mentor tells, of a brilliant author and professor who is involved with a former student and becomes too close to another, is excruciatingly cliched, and neither Lang nor writer/producer William Whitehurst are interested in adding to the tired storyline, or tweaking it in any way. Supporting Hauer’s egotistical professor with an aggressively Different and Sexy female lead (Dagmara Dominczyk) and an eager, naïve new devotee (Matthew Davis), the film conforms to every single expectation, including an ill-advised affair, an unplanned pregnancy, and several broken hearts. While well-worn stories are often told successfully through many incarnations, the problem with Lang’s film is that we don’t care about any of the characters; it becomes a nearly unendurable chore to listen to their faux-realistic dialogue, which has a strange tendency to sound like it was written by a low-rent Aaron Sorkin, who has the contrivance of his idol but neither his charm nor his understand of human interaction. The result of the utter lack of realism is that both the characters and their creators come across as painfully self-indulgent, the former for their inability (or unwillingness) to connect with those around them, and the latter for creating such characters, and for taking them -- and, one has to conclude, themselves -- so seriously.
The actors, too, suffer terribly under the burden of the screenplay; they never have a chance. Hauer is his usual self, often acting a little too big for the scenes he is in, and never really relating to the characters around him who, nevertheless, continue to worship him. While his natural distance is sometimes instrumental in the success of his films (it’s prefect, for example, for his role in Blade Runner), Hauer’s difficulty in convincingly portraying genuine warmth and affection is often a weakness, and it is a problem in Mentor. As Julia, Hauer’s former student and current lover, Dominczyk is nothing but a collection of idealized traits, waltzing through most scenes as the stereotypical hot, smart girl that nerdy high school seniors dream about finding their freshman year (only to find that she doesn’t exist, something that doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mentor’s writer). In the role of Carter, the student who becomes entangled with Pollard and Julia, Matthew Davis seems totally overmatched. Carter is at the center of most of the film’s major scenes, and Davis simply lacks the ability to effectively express the wrenching emotions his character is supposed to be experiencing; his bland portrayal only adds to the air of falseness that pervades the film.