In the last phase of his career, the legendary American filmmaker Paul Schrader seems to have decided to return to the very beginning. In the 1970s, when he became one of the most sought-after young screenwriters after the script for “Taxi Driver”, he soon started directing himself, and after “First Reformed” and “Card Counter”, “Master Gardener” is the third film in a series in which he has a protagonist like To Travis Bickle. Now this reclusive, silent, almost ascetic guy with a mysterious past is the master gardener on the estate of the eccentric rich Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Waver). Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is a guy who, at first glance, causes some quiet chills, discomfort, and after about fifteen minutes of the film, we will understand that he is anything but a harmless guy.
When he unbuttons his shirt and we see his body covered in Nazi tattoos, Narvel is revealed to be a former white supremacist. Obviously, he has something against his former colleagues, we see it in occasional flashbacks, which is why he is now hiding, and like all the best Schrader characters, he is haunted by his past and what he did. But Narvel seems to have found peace in gardening rituals, studying planting and everything related to the garden, and I have no idea what it’s called, and he turned it into his own almost philosophy. Narvel is secretly in a relationship with the owner of the estate, and the dynamics of their relationship will change when her young niece, the troubled and beautiful Maya (Quintessa Swindell), arrives there.
And just like Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” set himself a mission and fixated on saving those who don’t really need help, while he can’t really help himself, Narvel is in a similar situation. He will fixate on the young Maya and will firmly decide to help her get out of the problems she is in, and the film is reminiscent in style and structure of what Schrader has been shooting lately. It is a combination of drama and thriller with a somewhat numbing rhythm at the beginning, quiet, observational, with the occasional flow of thoughts of a master gardener, usually about the perfection of his profession, which he began to apply to everyday life as well.
Although Schrader has to be acknowledged for making a good, interesting, even exciting film that brings many surprises, “Master Gardener” was weaker for me than “Card Counter”, not to mention “First Reformed”. But after years and even decades of wandering, Schrader regained his true form in his late seventies. It was as if he rediscovered himself, returned to his roots and started making films with such a recognizable style. And Joel Edgerton, just like Ethan Hawke and Oscar Isaac in the previous two films, is brilliantly shot and believable as a mysterious guy about whom we will learn something new practically every minute.