Akis Konstantakopoulos directorial debut Land of Leopold, strikes a balance between the past and present through blending stunning cinematography, a complex subject matter and nuanced performances by an ensemble cast. Written by actors Chris Pinkalla and Drake Shannon, both of whom star in the film, it centers around a disconnected drifter, Leopold (Pinkalla) who finds himself at a halfway-house rehab facility when he is released from prison for assault. When he discovers that Milton’s Way is in danger of closing, which would result in him being sent back to prison to finish his sentence, he and his new friends embark on a mission to escape to freedom.
Konstantakopoulos is an accomplished director of photography, so naturally the cinematography both draws the viewer into the story and propels the narrative forward. With many shots focusing on solitary figures and open plains, the cinematography makes the isolation and disconnection of the characters clear. The scenery is absolutely stunning—I’m an avowed city-guy, but even I thought about what my life might be like if I moved to rural America. The cinematography reminded me of old-time westerns, where the wilderness (i.e. the West) was used as a symbol for freedom, far away from the confines and restrictions of law and the growing metropolitan ideals of the East Coast. While I may not be a fan of westerns, their use of visual imagery always impressed me. Konstantakopoulos deftly uses that same idea when contrasting the freedom of the characters’ escape with the literal imprisonment they face at Milton’s Way.
That allusion to Westerns is a signal to the viewer that there is something retro or vintage happening in the film, mainly that the characters are seeking a human connection that has become rare in today’s world. If the cinematography is the nail of this allusion, the hammer is the use of the 80s style adventure that the characters embark on. I am a huge fan of 80s adventures like The Goonies and this summer’s Stranger Things on Netflix. That genre is based on human connection, namely friendships so strong that they can defy reality, which Land of Leopold also hinges on. The ensemble cast led by Chris Pinkalla and filled out by Drake Shannon, Scottie Thompson, Tyler Cook, Castille Landon, and Ray Wise fully threw themselves into the characters and portrayed a bond based on deep connection. While they may differ, struggle, and ultimately fight, they are in the same boat and forge relationships deeper than even they may fully understand. There is an underlying playfulness to their performances that creates a nuanced and multi-layered story of the importance of relationships based on the joys of childhood, rather than the seriousness and trauma of adulthood. Land of Leopold reminds us how it felt to have deep friendships, and how important it is for us to truly connect and stay free in a world that is constantly trying to imprison us.
~ Josh Allen Goldman