I have already voiced my opinion of Menno Meyjes' directorial attempts 'Het Diner' and 'De Reünie' as disappointing, so my expectations for his third Dutch movie, De Held (The Hero) were not exactly high. And although this is possibly the best of the three, it still falls below my critical line of what I would call 'satisfying' (and I am not that critical, compared to the harsh judgment of many of my friends, or half the internet).
But let me be frank, The Hero is a case of near-miss for me, one that just failed to hold on to the edge of the cliff. With his previous movies, Meyjes' work was sub-par all throughout, but here he actually managed to keep me interested for the better part of it. I would even state that the main part of the movie is rather promising, and it is mainly the climax where the movie fails to deliver.
Meyjes shows a better handle of the material here, an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Dutch writer Jessica Durlacher. He introduces a family patriarch with a dark secret from his past, one that comes back to haunt him and effectively causes him to make decisions that affect his children and even grandchildren. In capable hands, that creates the perfect dramatic arch and plenty of opportunities for narrative tension. Introducing and referencing the grandfather's mystery throughout the movie, as well as featuring an unknown assailant help build some tension throughout the story, although Meyjes' talent for creating suspense is again lacking. His handling of the first assault scene is clumsy at best, instead of the gut-punch it should have been. It probably doesn't help that most Dutch people know how Daan Schuurmans sounds, so the audience is quite ahead of his 'bad guy revelation'.
What is unfortunate is that Meyjes does not know how to dose his information. The revelation of facts throughout the second half of the movie is simply not fast enough. The third act is the part where we should start to connect the dots, culminating into a finale where everything falls in place. We should understand why the grandfather's lack of courage convinces his grandson to do what he does, but it sadly doesn't happen because the screenplay withholds too many of the relevant facts, doesn't reveal them until the very end, or only very, very briefly so that we have little time to let it sink in. With only 94 minutes of running time, there simply isn't enough time to integrate the plot lines together in a satisfactory finale. As if the plane is kept airborne for 80 minutes and then suddenly nose-dives into the ground. I understand that a movie has to wrap up at one point, and can't go on in long-winded epilogues like a novel, but skipping it altogether is not the solution. Next time, the makers should allow themselves a full 120 minutes to adequately cover a book.
And again, I remain unconvinced of Meyjes' ability as a screenwriter and actor's director. We have some of our best actors at work here, but some of their dialogue scenes sound very hokey; Susan Visser's role hardly contributes to the overall story, so what is her character's deal? A solid backstory makes for the most interesting villains, but how do we learn of the motivation of Daan Schuurman's character? In a 15-second flashback. And having him talk out loud to a grave makes him unintentionally funny instead of interesting.
There is one additional compliment that I haven't made yet: whereas intentional or not, the movie is actually relevant when it touches upon the dangers of social media, especially 'revenge porn', by making it part of the plot. Nice that the movie integrates past traumas with modern problems. If only the entire movie were as clever as that...