Oh, Canada Review: Storytelling, Subversion and Self-Examination

Schrader crafts a visually striking film using experimental techniques to place viewers in Leonard's fragmented state of memory and subvert traditional narrative.

Richard Gere stars as Leonard Fife, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker nearing the end of his life, in Paul Schrader’s latest film. Adapted from Russell Banks’ novel Foregone, the story centers around an intimate interview Leonard agrees to as he succumbs to terminal cancer. He wishes to confront both his past and the myths surrounding his heroic persona, having famously fled the United States during the Vietnam War era.

Through lyrical yet fragmented flashbacks, we see Leonard’s life unfold from his idealistic youth through marriages, fatherhood, and an unexpected career in nonfiction cinema. However, all is not as it seems. As memories blur and contradictions emerge, Leonard sets out on a quest for truth—with himself, his wife Emma, played by Uma Thurman, and the audience.

Schrader draws deeply from his own experiences with mortality as he crafts Leonard’s journey. Elements of Resnais and Fellini shine through in the dreamlike structure, shifting between past and present. Gere and a young Jacob Elordi take on Leonard at different stages, further blurring realities.

With an ailing mind and body, Leonard must face truths left buried, seeking redemption through raw honesty, even if it damages the hero status he carved out. In  Oh, Canada, Schrader has given us an experimental yet poignant tale of life’s final accounting.

Leonard Fife Reflects on Past and Legacy

Leonard Fife has made his name as an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, celebrated for tackling important social issues. Now in his late years, Leonard finds himself reflecting deeply on his past from his deathbed. Cancer has taken hold in his body, and Leonard wants to set the record straight before the end comes.

He’s agreed to an in-depth, career-spanning interview conducted by former students Malcolm and Diana in his home. Emma, Leonard’s wife of many years, is also there, supporting her husband through this process. Leonard’s goal is honesty as he revisits his life’s work and decisions. However, it’s clear he struggles with uncertainty as memories from decades ago resurface.

Flashing back, we see a younger version of Leonard, played by Jacob Elordi. As a man in his 20s, Leonard dreamed of being a novelist but found himself swept up in the political currents of the time. He fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, becoming a symbol of activism. Yet Leonard begins to question if his motives were so clear-cut.

His past includes two marriages and children in America before meeting Emma. Leonard walked away from responsibilities more than once when change didn’t suit him. Now in his final days, Leonard wants to understand himself fully and share the whole truth with Emma for the first time.

Through this introspective deathbed interview, Leonard Fife examines his full history and learns that he can’t separate truth from myth. By facing the darkness of his past with honesty, perhaps Leonard can find a way to make peace before the end and do justice to his complex legacy.

Schrader’s Cinematic Vision

Paul Schrader crafts Leonard’s life story in a way that vividly captures the fragmented nature of memory. The film shifts freely between past and present, often blurring the lines between them. In one moment, we see Jacob Elordi portraying Leonard in his youth, and in the next, it’s Richard Gere taking his place despite the different eras.

Oh, Canada review

These transitions are accompanied by bold stylistic choices. The movie’s aspect ratio widens to embrace the flashbacks, transporting us from the confines of Malcolm’s documentary setup. Wonder’s cinematography soaks each scene in its own visual tone, whether it’s grainy black and white or the warm hues of period interiors. Production design fills Leonard’s home with opulent details that lend substance to his storied career.

Through its nonlinear structure, Oh Canada gives us access to Leonard’s recollections rather than a standard chronology. Scenes out of sequence mirror how the mind pulls bits of the past into the present. At times, clarity and confusion merge, much like Leonard’s own fluctuating grasp on reality. This mirrors the unreliability of memory itself.

By refracting Leonard’s life across contrasting styles, the film immerses us in his perspective without always signposting where one episode ends and the next begins. Schrader trusts us to piece together his subject’s journey through these fragmented yet emotionally cohesive glimpses. His bold formal choices strike at truths about identity and mortality that a traditional biopic could never attain with such depth.

Leonard’s Journey of Self-Discovery

This film takes us on a thoughtful exploration of Leonard Fife’s turbulent past. As his health declines, he faces the difficult task of untangling truths from myths about the journey that shaped his life and work.

Through vivid flashbacks, we learn unexpected details about Leonard abandoning previous partners and families. Having built a respected career on truth-seeking documentaries, he must now come to terms with how his own story differs from the heroic narrative celebrated by fans. His unwillingness to confront these betrayals had lasting impacts, such as when an estranged son confronted him years later.

Leonard strives for honesty in this introspective interview, yet struggles as illness clouds clear recollection. Varying timelines and casting choices reflect the uncertainty of memory. Even his devoted wife, Emma, remains unsure of how much she truly knows. As Leonard pieces together his scattered recollections, inconsistencies emerge that challenge the integrity of his public persona.

These revelations prompt reflection on how fame can distort one’s history. They also shine a light on themes of fragility and regret late in life. Leonard sees this process as a type of confession and comes to view reputation as less important than intimacy in his final days. His fluctuating memories mirror the fleeting nature of the time left.

By bravely laying bare the imperfections of a celebrated figure, this film sparks thought on mortality, truth, and the messy realities beneath heroic surfaces. It sends the moving message that facing dark chapters with openness can bring a type of closure and redemption.

Legacy of Flawed Heroes

Richard Gere gives a deeply moving performance at the heart of Oh, Canada. Playing Leonard Fife, a renowned documentary filmmaker now facing his mortality, Gere strips away vanities to reveal a man consumed by fragility. Gone is the polish of Hollywood’s golden boy, the charming rogue who long captivated audiences.

In its place we find sore vulnerability, an aging man now confronting regrets and failures across a life once lived, glancing over his shoulder. Through scarcely masked pain and growing confusion, Gere ensures we see the frailties beneath bravado, granting us insight into how ambition’s successes can subtly breed cowardice.

Helping illuminate Leonard’s past is a standout turn from rising star Jacob Elordi. Delivering great nuance, Elordi inhabits the charisma and feckless wanderlust of youthful Leonard without resorting to easy charm. We witness ambition, a rebellious spirit, and restlessness that will define Fife for decades to come. Elordi brings an impressive complexity that elevates our understanding of how far this man must journey to face truths about himself.

Adding further layers is Uma Thurman, tasked with depicting a woman gradually uncovering uncomfortable revelations about her husband. With compassion, Thurman shows us Emma’s developing disquiet and pain and how familial love can persevere despite new cracks in long-held assumptions. Hers is a quiet internal struggle that proves just as powerful as those on more dramatic fronts.

Fine support throughout comes from a talented ensemble, including Michael Imperioli’s respectful determination as an interviewer reluctantly uncovering hidden truths and memorable turns from Kristine Froseth and Jacob Zachar in glimpses of lives impacted by Leonard’s choices. Together, they ensure Oh, Canada’s examination of flawed ideals and messy legacies remains deeply felt.

Paul Schrader Makes Peace With Himself

Schrader takes a ruminative approach with “Oh, Canada,” crafting a self-aware tribute to late friend and novelist Russell Banks. Adapting Banks’ final work, about a renowned artist facing mortality, Schrader reflects on his own health battles.

Leonard Fife, played passionately by Gere, is a documentary filmmaker determined to set the record straight in a career-spanning interview. But as illness ravages the mind and body, memories prove unreliable. Schrader blurs past and present using fluid techniques that disorient, like fading cognition. Though confusing at times, it powerfully conveys Leonard’s experience.

We sense this personal meaning for Schrader, who inserts himself by appearing youthful alongside Gere. It’s a bold choice, prioritizing emotional truth over logical sense. Schrader confesses his own failures through Leonard, a once-revered figure now exposed as complexly flawed.

Despite ambitious formalism and fragmented narrative, Schrader’s emotional directness resonates. Gere digs deep, conveying fragility and regret. You feel Schrader’s need to make amends before life’s end. Like Leonard facing mortality, Schrader appears to be preparing for what comes next.

Though imperfect, “Oh, Canada” reveals a master artist quietly wrestling with his legacy, blessedly void of pretension. Schrader offers no easy answers, mirroring life’s messy complexities. He strives for dignity in reckoning with regrets, inspiring us to do the same.

The Enduring Vision

So in the end, what are we left with after reflecting on Leonard Fife’s journey? Oh, Canada presents a profound character study, depicting one man’s final attempt to walk through the ashes of his past. Fife comes to understand himself as deeply flawed, having avoided responsibility for decades, but now seeks honesty in his twilight. Schrader skillfully lays bare the messy contradictions of a life partially remembered and partially invented.

Through it all, there is a consistent focus on mortality, memory, and the stories we tell. Fife comes to see how his own narrative obscures darker truths. Schrader seems to say that facing reality, even if unflattering, offers a kind of peace. There is also wisdom in accepting life’s ambiguities; few of us live without regrets. While Fife’s story divides critics, it shows courage to lay oneself open through both beauty and warts.

After decades of creating vivid worlds, Schrader remains a master of intimate portraits, finding art in life’s gritty corners. Oh, Canada serves as a poignant meditation on an auteur coming to understand his own past.

Schrader suggests the best we can do is search for truth, however imperfectly, and appreciate each day. Memories may fade, but the present moment remains if we have the eyes to see it. There is dignity even in frailty, redemption in honest reflection, and meaning to unearth wherever we wander.

The Review

Oh, Canada

8 Score

Oh, Canada offers more questions than answers, much like life itself. Schrader crafts a visually striking, emotionally raw character study held together by strong performances, particularly from Gere in a deeply unlikable yet haunting role. While the narrative structure may frustrate some, Schrader challenges viewers to grapple with ambiguity, much like his deeply flawed protagonist. There are no easy resolutions here, only age-old questions of failure and forgiveness, truth and redemption. It will not appeal to all, but for those drawn to thoughtful meditations on the messiness of human nature, Oh, Canada merits consideration.


  • A strong lead performance from Richard Gere explores mortality and fragility.
  • A thought-provoking examination of memory, truth, and storytelling
  • Visually striking with inventive cinematography and editing
  • Poignant soundtracks enhance themes of reflection.


  • A complex, nonlinear narrative frustrates some and lacks clarity.
  • Characters aside from Gere's are not fully developed.
  • Some contrived elements, like the double casting of the younger Leonard
  • A low-key and ambiguous ending may not satisfy all viewers.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 8
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