Two years after his father (Robert Redford) was able to scientifically prove that an afterlife exists, a neurologist (Jason Segel) agrees to help him with an experiment that could provide further details regarding the great beyond. At the same time, he falls in love with a troubled woman (Rooney Mara) who is also drawn to his father’s research. Directed by Charlie McDowell (The One I Love), The Discovery relies too much on the initial idea and not enough on the story itself.
The film is moody and atmospheric, capturing the grim, grey world that has seen a substantial increase in suicides since the proof of an afterlife. The world we’re introduced to is haunting as the suicidal stigma lingers. Other than the aesthetic, the film is rather vapid. Within the first five minutes the film proposes a big picture idea but starts to unravel into a story of smaller scale. Unfortunately the tepid characters don’t have enough development to convince us of the story McDowell is trying to tell.
Jason Segel takes on another dramatic role after his acclaimed performance in The End of the Tour. Like the other actors and their characters, his performance isn’t the problem. Nothing about his character is interesting and his chemistry with Rooney Mara’s Isla falls flat. Mara doesn’t get the opportunity to show off her acting chops with the withdrawn Isla, instead being held to a somber gaze. As always, it’s a delight to see Robert Redford attached to unique projects like this. His screen presence livens up the drab setting. Jesse Plemons and Riley Keough have supporting roles and do solid with what they have to work with, both continue to add to their impressive indie filmography.
The Discovery is an ambitious independent project that struggles to find an identity after the first act but still manages to have some redeemable qualities. The mystery isn’t mysterious and the drama isn’t dramatic but the likeable cast are good enough to persuade the viewer to continue watching. Enlarging the scope wouldn’t be possible for the indie budget, therefore a more character driven story with fleshed out leads would be more beneficial to the story. The Discovery gets stuck in between whether to prioritize the scale of the story or the depth of the characters, resulting in them roughly meeting in the middle. Never boring but never edge of your seat thrilling, The Discovery’s concept and cast still make it a worthwhile watch.