A young boy testifies in a murder trial that puts his brother in a penitentiary. What exactly happened in the past is purposefully vague, but in In the Radiant City, viewers learn more about the crime through short and frequent flashbacks.
In present time, the boy returns to his hometown as a grown man for the first time in years after being ostracized by his family; he’s back to testify in a parole hearing that could potentially free his brother this time.
Co-writers Nathan Gregorski and Rachel Lambert made the plot of In the Radiant City purposefully and excruciatingly mysterious, which results in a choppy and gauche flow of scenes and dialogue. In directing this film, Lambert took the phrase “moving picture” literally, and captured scenes that disorient the viewer in the same way the leading character appears to feel.
The entire film embodies a tense mood, but bits of enjoyable, light humor are woven throughout for comic relief. Unfortunately, the awkward flow of dialogue tends to detract from the interesting performances of the cast and the impressive composition of the scenes. However, Lambert perfects framing techniques and uses contrasts of light and dark in a stunning manner. The entire movie is colorful and vibrant. Definitely “radiant.” It almost appears as if a low-temperature, high-saturation Instagram filter has been applied to the film, to stunning effect.
Michael Abbott Jr., the lead actor, puts a lot of obvious effort into playing an old, tortured soul affected by his brother’s crime. Abbott Jr.'s performance, as well as the efforts of Lambert and producer Jeff Nichols, provide an interesting examination of the long-lasting ripple effects a crime can have on the perpetrator's family and friends. Little music is used in the film, and the sounds most derive from the actors’ speaking. Many scenes seem unlikely, from a realistic plot perspective. But as a whole, superb cinematography and acting come together to heighten the emotional impact for viewers in this intriguing film.