In this truly odd sophomore effort from director Ido Fluk (2011’s Never Too Late), we meet James (Dan Stevens, currently playing the Beast in Beauty and the Beast), a man who has been blind since he was a kid because of an inoperable tumor pressing against his ocular nerve. He’s managed to carve out a peaceful, loving existence with his wife Sam (Malin Akerman) and their son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), when one morning James wakes up and can see perfectly. The tumor simply shrunk, and the doctors are baffled and not above calling it a miracle.
Rather than be grateful for the people and things he has in his modest life, James becomes obsessed by bettering himself—he begins to work out and dress better in hopes of getting a promotion at his low-level position at a real estate company that seems to specialize in snatched homes from people in deep debt and reselling at a massive profit. Not surprisingly, he also takes a good look at his wife and decides he can do better, despite her devotion to him in his less sighted years, and he starts flirting with a younger co-worker (Kerry Bishé, currently starring in AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire”). He also decides that he can do better in the best friend department and starts to argue regularly with his buddy at work, Bob (Oliver Platt), who also happens to be blind.
If you’re thinking James is a bit of a dick, you’d be correct, and director Fluk (who co-wrote the movie with Sharon Mashihi) doesn’t excuse any of James’s behavior, which is not to say he doesn’t want to make sense of them. This is a man who was so afraid of disappointing his father as a kid that he would lie about how well he could see until he couldn’t any longer. It’s not particularly difficult to figure out where things go once James has settled into his new existence, but the filmmaker and Stevens make the journey interesting. They’re all not above saying that God is as capable of taking away as he is at giving, especially if you act like an asshole after receiving something resembling a second chance. Fluk does a nice job, especially in the film’s opening shots, giving us some idea of what James’s blind world looks and sounds, which makes contrasting his seeing life all the more joyful.
Probably the greatest praise I can give the film is for Stevens’s deeply felt performance. We see him at every stage of despair and happiness, reserved and full-on cocky. Since his days on “Downton Abbey,” Stevens hasn’t truly broken through as the recognized acting giant that he can be, but between a slew of recent films (including next week’s Colossal and Norman) and his transcendent work on the FX series “Legion”—not to mention his work in the little Disney remake that is likely to be one of the the biggest-grossing films of 2017—Stevens is about to break out big. And he’s still got three or four more films left to be released this year.
The Ticket—a reference to a joke James tells his clients about a man praying to God to let him win the lottery—is a flawed film about a deeply flawed man, but that might almost be the point. It entirely conceivable that some audience members will despise James’s decisions to such a degree that they’ll never make it beyond what happens to him in the final third of the film, or the directions his family and friend’s lives go in the aftermath of his awful choices. I’m of a school that believes you don’t have to like your lead character to enjoy watching their story, but you do have to get enough of a glimpse into their heart and mind to understand why they do what they do. It’s the same principle behind great villains. No smartly written bad guy thinks he’s bad; his reasons for doing evil make sense to him. I’m not making James out to be evil. He just gets dazzled with his the pretty things around him.
There’s no getting around that The Ticket is a tough movie to embrace, but between Stevens’s performance and Fluk confident, solid directing, there are things here to appreciate and even really like.
The film opens today in suburban South Barrington at AMC South Barrington 30. You can also rent it digitally on Amazon and most other streaming platforms.