Oh No, Canada

Oh Canada

As one of Hollywood’s elder statesmen rapidly reaching his retirement years, it’s no surprise that Paul Schrader’s latest movie would feature a certain amount of introspection, following a terminally ill filmmaker looking back on his life.

As he is being interviewed by two of his former students (Michael Imperioli and Victoria Hill) for a career-retrospective documentary, he’s forced to face the parts of his past he’d long since buried. It was no secret that Raymond Fife (played by Richard Gere and Jacob Elordi respectively) had originally come to Canada as a draft dodger, finding a new home there to escape the Vietnam War. But what – and who – had he left behind? Schrader builds Oh Canada (2024) as an examination of the power of memory, whether or not it can be relied upon and if its reliability even matters.

Richard Gere and Jacob Elordi put in charismatic performances as the complicated Leonard Fife at different stages of his life. But Oh Canada struggles to find the balance between these two narrative threads, preventing them from having as much of an emotional impact as they otherwise could. 

Here’s the problem: Jacob Elordi’s segments of the film play out like a traditional period drama about a young man who is grappling with decisions about his future against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Richard Gere’s parts of the film are much more meditative and introspective, with Fife treating his time in front of the camera, reminiscing about his life, almost as though it’s a confessional. He may as well be sitting with a priest, reflecting on each of his many sins.

These two approaches are both interesting – and worth exploring in their own right – but they don’t always mesh. The combination makes both feel a little unsatisfying. Schrader doesn’t always know how to connect elements from each story either. In one scene early on in the film, he shows Richard Gere’s version of Fife having a conversation with his wife. Later, he double-casts Uma Thurman (who plays Emma, Fife’s Canadian wife) as a different character from Fife’s past, presumably to show where Fife’s memory is getting muddled. But he quickly abandons this technique. It’s a shame because the effective use of those kinds of blurred lines could have helped create a more cohesive film.

Oh Canada is clearly a project close to Paul Schrader’s heart, and Fife a character he identifies with strongly. But it doesn’t ever really get off the ground – the two narrative elements are too detached from one another to allow the two halves of Fife to be seen in clear contrast. It wastes Jacob Elordi, and although Richard Gere gets the stronger material, there’s a lack of focus that prevents him from making the most of his performance either. As a result, Oh Canada is little more than a middling effort from a director who may have found a project that spoke to him but found it two or three drafts away from being a finished screenplay.

Audrey Fox is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic and a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, with bylines at RogerEbert.com, /Film, The Nerdist, Looper, amongst others.