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film review

Maxwell McCabe-Lokos plays hapless loser Henry in Bruce McDonald’s The Husband.Johnny Vong

Somewhere in the low end of his 30s, life went offside for Henry Andreas (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), and The Husband is the story of a guy scrounging in the chaos for the lost playbook.

But who wrote the rules for a situation like this one? Henry's wife Alyssa (Sarah Allen) is in jail on charges of sexual interference with a 14-year-old prep-school minor, and Henry's left alone every day with his infant son, a world only too aware of his humiliation, an ad-company job he hates, and himself. Which may be the hardest play of them all: how to get past the skinny, sunken-eyed, balding loser he sees every morning in the bathroom mirror.

Bruce McDonald's movie is a terse, brittle and sometimes wincingly unadorned study of hetero-masculinity in free fall, and it requires that you feel for Henry despite the fact that he couldn't make a right decision if he had a full administrative staff on hand to help him through the day. On the contrary, the risky bet taken by the movie is that you'll stick with this poor sod even when his actions verge on the outright reprehensible, like when he leaves his kid overnight with the housekeeper in order to get hammered, turns down the crib monitor to ignore the baby's crying, or plies his teenage babysitter with smokes and beer in an aborted bid at tit-for-tat payback.

That we do care for Henry is thanks in no small part to the remarkable performance of writer-actor McCabe-Lokos, whose utterly unlaundered turn as a guy sputtering with explosively unresolved feelings is as funny and touching to watch as it is cringingly close to the bone. It's one thing to synch up emotionally with Henry as he clings tearfully to the son who helplessly depends on him, quite another to root for the dude as he stalks the terrified teenage interloper (carrying a video-game console as bait), goads a welcome backyard shellacking from the boy's father, or storms into his wife's correctional facility to unload a heaping molten landfill's worth of pure emasculated hate.

But it's the world built around Henry that ultimately provides us with permission to watch with such conflicted fascination, and a world McDonald – who has been a director of widely varying styles and substance since he first revved-up with Roadkill some 25 years (and 60-plus movie and television credits) ago – creates with such pinpoint cinematic precision. No stranger to terminally dysfunctional, underachieving and sometimes downright clueless male protagonists – Highway 61, Hard Core Logo, Twitch City, Pontypool – McDonald has in Henry found a loser of another order entirely: the man with a tissue-thin sense of self.

Whether he's skulking through a city – Toronto – that looks as ashen as his sunken cheeks, framed within interior spaces that block him constantly on the edge of things, or sealed into his car like a trapped insect, Henry inhabits a world as externally daunting and unnavigable as it is internally perplexing. This is the kind of thoughtful, confident and seamlessly integrated filmmaking that comes from an uncommon fusion of artist and subject, which goes a long way to explaining why we can feel for Henry despite all the dumb and awful things he does: because McDonald so clearly does.

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