On the Township

Notable if only for a lead performance delivered by John Lynch with agonized focus and intensity, Marion Hansel's The Quarry bears a striking resemblance to the recent, scarcely released The Broken Giant, which likewise encompassed fallen clergymen, fleeing Job figures, and purgatorial fire scorching dusty ground. Hansel's terrain is a rural South African township, where an Irish drifter known only as the Man (Lynch)—who seems to be fleeing from the police—gets a ride from a minister en route to his new church. The preacher isn't as reverend as he first appears, and a gratuitous if basically innocent act of self-defense by the Man leaves him with a(nother?) body on his hands. When two young black locals rob the deceased's van, they realize the Man has assumed the minister's identity just as they implicate themselves in his crime—an arrangement that suits the bigoted white police captain just fine. Meanwhile, churchgoers seem puzzled but endeared by their autistic-savant newcomer, who's nearly speechless when he's not at the pulpit and given to quoting Lamentations when he is.

Hansel's overlong film is hobbled by distracting technical gaffes and a sometimes cringingly earnest script; troubling too is why Hansel has left the time period uncertain—the ambiguity undermines any sense of social context. Emotional context, however, is provided by Lynch: With his perpetually startled eyes, hoarsely confessional voice, and cowed, scarecrow limbs, he embodies a soul in limbo, choked and bewildered by his own grief and guilt.

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