The less of Powder is that less is more. Powder is a film that is able to work its magic on the audience in a Spielbergian way in which each and every scene is designed to manipulate the audience’s feelings.
Powder opens with a hospital scene that introduces us to the character in which the film is named after. Powder is a completely bald albino boy that possesses powers that are beyond what normal humans have. His mother dies in labor and his father disowns him when he sees that Power is an albino. Powder is raised and home schooled by his grandparents. When his grandparents perish, Powder is taken under the care of Jessie (Mary Steenburgen).
Jessie immediately sends Powder to a reform school - which baffled me, but I went along with it. In the reform school Powder shows his special powers to bullies which instead of frightening them off makes them even bigger bullies (for the record, if I saw what Powder did in the cafeteria, I’d run for my life). There are other things that bothered me a little about the way the story was told. One was how the characters of the film faded in and out of the film. For instance Jeff Goldblum’s character is introduced then disappears for thirty minutes.
As for performances, the one that surprised me was Lance Henriksen. I’m used to seeing Henriksen in less emotionally necessary parts (Aliens, Hard Target, Terminator) and his performance as the Sheriff was completely different from the roles that I’m accustomed to seeing him in. Henriksen does very well with the part that he is given. Steenburgen and Goldblum are given parts that don’t give them much to work with. Goldblum does try his best to inject some energy into the material he’s given. As for Sean Patrick Flarney as Powder, he gives a decent performance as Powder. Flarney gave enough of a performance to hold my attention. This movie is not high on character development instead this movie rests on something else.
That something is the manipulation of our emotions. Every scene is meticulously setup to take us in a different emotional avenue. By the end of the film, because of the emotional roller coaster that this film is it has us in tears.
Worth mentioning about Powder is the wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith. The score by Goldsmith works with the emotional roller coaster to enhance, and at times is, the emotional center of the scene. Goldsmith is one of Hollywood’s hardest working composers and it is nice to see that he not only scored this film, but he also conducted it. Kudos to Goldsmith for a wonderful score.
The script by director Victor Salva doesn’t take any risks when it comes to the film. I’m sure that this film would have looked, felt, and acted different if someone a bit quirkier had taken the reigns of the film. The name that immediately comes to mind is Tim Burton. I think that in the hands of Burton this film would have been darker and more risky in its approach to the character of Powder. Salva does well with Powder though, he is a bit too “Hollywood” in his approach to the film - it feels much like a paint-by-the-numbers film at times.
I screened Powder on laserdisc at the Bunker (the theatre formerly known as the Higdon 1). John Higdon informs me that the laserdisc is a hard to find item nowadays, but you can find Powder on video. Don’t Miss Powder.