- Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 33 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
Young Down Syndrome Zak (Zack Gottsagen) faces oppression from those ignorant of his condition. Not even state authorities know what to do with the orphan, so they have placed him in a retirement home. Fortunately, he acquires two persons who do care about him—his elderly roommate Carl (Bruce Dern) and his supervisor Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Soon he will acquire a third, a very unlikely fisherman on the run.
Eleanor is concerned because Zak has tried to flee the home several times. Carl has watched with Zak several times an old VCR tape featuring veteran wrestler The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Redneck advertises his school located far to the south in the Florida panhandle. Zak is eager to go there and learn to be a wrestler himself.
One night, with Carl’s help in bending their window’s iron bars so that he can squeeze through, Zak escapes, though wearing only his underpants. Meanwhile poverty-stricken Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) has been caught filching from the lobster traps of crab fisherman Duncan (John Hawkes). Punished by a beating, Tyler at night sets afire a stack of his enemy’s cages and nets. Fleeing to his boat to escape Duncan’s wrath, he is surprised to discover Zak hiding under a tarp in the rear of the boat.
Tyler is not pleased to have what he regards as an impediment aboard, but as pilots his boat into the rushes as Duncan and his henchman Ratboy (Yelawolf) pass closely by, their guns at ready, he has no choice but to bring him along. Through flashbacks we learn that Tyler is still mourning the death of his beloved the death of his older brother Mark (Jon Bernthal).
Tyler lays down a set of rules, which Zak manages to garble when asked to repeat them. Along the way he teaches Zak how to swim, fish, drink, and hide from their pursuers. There follows, of course, a process of rapprochement and friendship. Tyler decides that he will make sure that he delivers Zak to The Saltwater Redneck’s School of Wrestling.
The people they meet along the way sometimes help, especially the gun-toting black preacher Blind Jasper John: (Wayne Dehart), who says, “ There are sheep in this world and there are wolves in this world. And I know that you two boys are just two weary travelers who have lost your way. So, we are going to clean you up right with a baptism.” In return for submitting to the water rite John gives them provisions for their journey, as well as for Tyler a release from guilt.
Also following the pair is Eleanor, ordered by her superior not to come back and unless she brings Zak with her. As her quarry proceed south by boat, she drives on land. By the time she catches up with them they have replaced the decrepit boat with a raft equipped with a homemade sail. After considerable arguing Tyler convinces Eleanor to join them. What surprising events transpires when they reach their destination, with the vengeance-seeking crab fishermen close behind them, is funny, suspenseful, and inspiring.
The filmmakers created this film specifically for Zack Gottsagen, a Down Syndrome person aspiring to be an actor. Hitherto such persons have usually been peripheral to the main story, but in this film, Zak is the central character. The closest before is Lonny in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and also one, the name of which I cannot recall, about two young Down Syndrome persons who decide to marry each other.
Fortunately, this story ends happily, rather than in the tragedy of Steinbeck’s character. We might see the ending as a bit unrealistic, with the question of how the three are going to survive economically, until we remember that there had been mentioned earlier that Eleanor possessed an external means of support aside from her retirement home job. The orphaned Zak will be living the fulfillment of what his old friend Carl had told him at the beginning of the story, “Friends are the family you choose.”
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