The IMDB synopsis for this film is “An adult victim of childhood sexual abuse confronts the horrors of his past” and having sat looking at a blank screen for thirty or so minutes I’m damned if I can better it. Romans is directed by the Shammasian Brothers from a deeply personal Geoff Thompson script that wades through the wreckage left by abuse while exploring the ongoing damage caused by all who are touched by it.
We meet Malky, a construction worker currently demolishing a church, played outstandingly by Orlando Bloom. He stands in the shadow of a giant crucifix and each strike of the hammer rattles the nails in Jesus’ hands. Malky rarely speaks, and when he does it’s functional and never from the heart. He pushes away his friends and partner and we see he’s built himself into his own prison, keeping everything inside and never disclosing what has ruined him. It’s unspoken but we see the echoes of the abuse in his actions: brutally masturbating himself with a cudgel, or when he is with his girlfriend, having her face away from him when they make love.
When the priest who abused him returns to the town to start at the new church that has been built, Malky is forced to face the issues that have plagued him since childhood with the church he is bringing down serving as a metaphor for his state of mind. Does he continue or does he quit? Is it about destruction or forgiveness?
The film focuses on Malky and the quiet closed person he is amongst friends and family. Even when he doesn’t feature, and we see other characters interact with each other, it’s always about the effect he has had on them. In that way, the legacy of abuse crawls through the film, infecting characters with its poison and making misery befall all. Malky’s strongest relationship is with his elderly mother who he spends a lot of his time with, out of a kind of family duty, but remains closed off and they never seem comfortable together. There is love there but it’s not until the film’s remarkable confrontation between them that we understand the full story.
Romans is a tough watch but a rewarding one. For a story about abuse it is commendable that Bloom has taken on the role playing such a vulnerable and damaged character. It could well have been difficult to see past his most enduring roles, say as Legolas or in Pirates Of the Caribbean, but Bloom delivers a deeply emotional performance where you forget that you’re watching a Hollywood star. That’s so important because the story is so personal that a lesser casting choice could have broken the film.
But even with a well known face in the lead, it’s not an easy ride. While there is redemption, a lot of the trauma is shown to be cyclical and for that reason the film cannot provide easy answers.