“Z for Zachariah,” a three hander starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine, is a dystopian story where the catastrophic events surrounding the devastation of the human race are less important than the more primal themes of lust and jealousy that arise between the trio of characters.
Robbie is Ann, a pious woman whose tough, lonely life changes when she meets and befriends scientist Loomis (Ejiofor). She hasn’t seen another person in a very long time and soon they work through their mutual mistrust to form a friendship with romantic overtones. Their budding romance is stopped short with the appearance of Caleb (Chris Pine), a charming stranger who inserts himself into their lives. Loomis doesn’t trust the newcomer and becomes even more suspicious when Ann and Caleb become romantically involved.
Based on a novel by Robert C. O’Brien, “Z for Zachariah” is a quiet movie that sits on the other end of the scale from recent dystopian movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” or “CHAPPiE.” The action here is mostly internal and the only explosions are emotional. Director Craig Zobel challenges the audience’s idea of what a post apocalypse world would look like. His world is lush, save for a creek infected by nuclear waste, and he has boiled the story down to its essentials.
The film isn’t cluttered with the backstory of the disaster, instead it gives us just enough information on the characters to allow us to draw our own conclusions about them. Loomis is a drinker, Ann’s religious convictions have left her open to being taken advantage of while Caleb’s past is murky enough to arouse suspicion. It’s a complex study of character, a look at how people behave in isolated circumstances.
The actors rise to the occasion. Robbie leaves behind the glam of “Wolf of Wall Street” to find Ann’s vulnerability, while Pine is allowed to show more depth as Caleb than he’s able to in his “Star Trek” franchise. By the time the end credits roll, however, it’s clear this is Ejiofor ‘s movie. The multifaceted character is vividly alive behind his eyes and often his performance is more interesting than the movie itself.
Zobel’s deliberate pacing is meant to highlight the all-important subtext of the story but occasionally feels more like foot dragging than a style choice.