A blind man regains his sight and drifts away from his previous life in Ido Fluk’s visually accomplished, psychologically compelling sophomore feature, “The Ticket.” Boasting complex, sharply drawn characters and top-notch performances, this mature drama plays with ideas of seeing, both the outside world as well as within oneself, as Fluk (“Never Too Late”) masterfully depicts intimacies gone awry. Incorporating concepts of control, ethics and acceptance of the cards life deals out, “The Ticket” will be the helmer’s ticket to a broad arthouse audience.
One of the most satisfying elements of the film is the way the director captures, visually and aurally, a sense of closeness between characters. At the start, as only shifting shapes of light appear on screen, audiences hear the voices of James (Dan Stevens), blind since youth, and his wife Samantha (Malin Akerman). Their pillow talk, combined with the low-toned warmth of their voices, speak of deep closeness and affection, and they’re a tight family with young son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James prays daily, voicing his gratitude for such a wonderful life.
Then one morning he wakes up and discovers he can see the curtains, and the trees outside. It’s not a miracle — the doctor says his pituitary tumor has shrunk – but for James it feels like his humility has been divinely rewarded. It’s odd for him at the real estate telemarketing center he works for, since now he’s the only seeing person there, but life is truly wonderful.
Imagine however a life where your spouse has chosen everything, from clothes and home decor to even what information to give out: Jonah comes home with a black eye and James discovers that Samantha never told him their son was being bullied at school. At work James eyes management, with their suited air of superiority, and he’s hungry for what they have. Now properly groomed and with an air of confidence, he convinces the bosses they can corner the market in quick working-class house sales by cynically rebranding themselves as a company that cares about the common man.
Home life however is a source of dissatisfaction: Samantha is frumpy, and her tastes lean to down-market dance halls with middle-aged couples. His best friend Bob (Oliver Platt) is still blind whereas James, with his good looks and winning sales pitch, can rule the world, or at least his small slice of it. Both Samantha and Bob represent a time when his independence was limited, but now is his moment to assert himself and grab hold of the brass ring, whether it’s a fancy car or his sexually potent, previously unattainable colleague Jessica (Kerry Bishe).
The crumbling bond between husband and wife is so beautifully rendered that sympathies are divided between them both. Samantha’s so accustomed to looking after James and controlling every aspect of their lives, it’s no wonder he feels the need to assert his independence. In a superb, heartbreaking scene, he agrees to take her dancing one more time, and the camera sticks tightly to their entwined, swaying bodies, hands gripping each other, heads on shoulders. It’s the last dance of two people who loved each other very much, who depended on the other completely, yet both know it’s over.
Fluk and co-writer Sharon Mashihi refreshingly treat their characters as multifaceted adults, each with their flaws and attractions. James’ arrogance becomes painful after displaying such humility before God (“The Ticket” is a natural for any ecumenical prizes) and yet he’s not wrong in bristling at his previously infantilized state. The film’s title refers to a story James tells in his sales pitches, about a guy praying to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket: opportunity needs to be actively seized, and yet what are the consequences when success arrives?
Acting is exceptionally strong, especially rising talent Stevens (“Downton Abbey”), whose finely calibrated portrayal and resonant, honeyed voice should have casting agents calling. Akerman isn’t on screen as much, but she’s enormously likable despite Samantha’s controlling nature. The only character who doesn’t completely work is Jessica, who starts off as deeply unpleasant and shifts too quickly to being a supportive presence.
Fluk knew that a film about a man suddenly able to see again needed to have striking visuals (lest it fall into the trap of “At First Sight”), and his collaboration with d.p. Zachary Galler is one of the project’s most outstanding elements. From the patterns of light and dark at the opening, approximating what James can see, to the increasingly rich tonalities as he glories in his new sensory perception, the cinematography is carefully attuned to the different states of James’ ability to experience his surroundings. Sound design is also pro. Gino Fortebuono’s production design similarly takes character into consideration, from the floral wallpaper which James would never have chosen to his starkly modern apartment.