Film Review: ‘Waves’ Delivers Star-Making Turns From Taylor Russell And Sterling K. Brown

The ensemble ripples as an instant Oscar contender...


Trey Edward Schultz’s intimate and profoundly powerful new film “Waves,” assembling one of the year’s most talented and rewarding ensembles, propels the medium of film into a new stratosphere that the film-loving world will benefit for years to come. Operating tension and suspense against the backdrop of a family drama, before packing in an inimitable filmmaking craft that is deeply moving. Highlighted by dynamic camera work, intensive sound design, and astonishing turns from Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown, “Waves” emerges as one of the most sensational films in years.

Waves,” tells the story of two teenagers Tyler and Emily (played by Harrison, Jr., and Russell), brother and sister, who both must face the consequences of their choices, navigating grief, addiction, and the mysterious repercussions of life.

Insatiably brilliant, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. showcases the very best acting turn of his young career yet, cementing his position in this generation’s most promising and rewarding actors. His commitment to a young man, boiling to the brim, and failing to activate control is gorgeously and devastatingly vibrant. Mirrored with irreprehensible actions from his character, Harrison, Jr. unlocks the humanity that allows the viewer to fully engage and empathize. The future of cinema is so very bright, showing that he’s taking the time to do the work, alongside co-writer and director Schultz, shows what we are all in store for in the coming years.

Taylor Russell’s charisma and beauty is a tool that isn’t just used as a display case, rather than a mechanism that slices through the film with an angelic ferociousness. You can’t teach young actors what Russell is effortlessly able to exhibit, minute after beautiful cinematic minute. Her love and passion pour through the silver screen like rushing water, inviting us on the journey, and before we know it, we are caught within her marvelous current, drowning in her sheer brilliance.

Schultz’s honorable script, which he takes from elements of his own childhood, is raw and not for the faint of heart. He unloads an avalanche of ache, never indulgent in what he’s conveying, rather just sensitively making the story as universal as possible. The ethnicity and race of these characters are both important and yet, utterly unimportant to the portrait that Schultz paints. He’s not performing cheap racial beats as we tend to see when a Caucasian filmmaker attempts to tell a story that isn’t reflective of his or her own culture. It’s most appreciated to see the challenge accepted by someone such as Schultz, and adding in the fact that he absolutely nails it, you can’t ask for much more.

The rest of the cast sizzles in their maneuvering through a story that isn’t about them. Sterling K. Brown as the overbearing and heartbroken father is riveting, magnifying what we already knew of him as an actor, and delivering something completely innovative and exceptional. Lucas Hedges, forming his own lane of dependable, lively supporting men in any film he inhabits, is beginning to emulate a career similar to that of the late and Oscar-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman in his early endeavors. Hedges is holistically eloquent.

Renée Elise Goldsberry gives a breathtaking example of what to do of the time you are given in movies, even if it’s not very much. She’s able to rip into a scene like thunder on a quiet, gloomy night, before exiting a frame that leaves the audience with cinematic whiplash, all in the best of ways. Capturing the discomfort, confusion yet quiet of strength of young Latina women, Alexis Demie makes her mark despite limited screen time but remains utterly memorable.

Fervently assembled by a technical team for the ages, every team member hits their mark. Johnnie Burn, one of the most creative and passionate sound auteurs working today, relishes in the aura of his own mixing and design work, putting the viewer in the ICU due to fragrant audibility and using music to take the forefront whenever necessary. Camera movements become an Olympic event that is coached by DP Drew Daniels, a match that he should frankly win the gold. Pan around shots in a continuous circular motion has never been something that this reviewer calls for in motion pictures but Daniels’ tranquil adjustments, along with lovely usage of lighting bring about some of the year’s most courageous shots in cinema.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the dual composer team that has already made their mark at the beginning of the decade with their score on “The Social Network,” decided to end the decade in the same intense manner. The music compositions are precisely reflective of mood and feeling, and magnificently playing with sound cues to heighten the moments.

Waves” is an engrossing experience. Admittedly emotionally draining, the audience is a better human for just taking the ride and experience with Schultz and cast. Downright sensational.

“Waves” is distributed by A24 and is currently in theaters.

GRADE: (★★★★)