Audiences today need little urging to accept age- and color-blind casting on the stage, but Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns’s life-in-the-aftermath drama The Library perhaps pushes viewers to accept one thing too much: poise-blind casting.
Big-screen ass-kicker Chloë Grace Moretz, who proved indisputably together even before her prom makeover in that new Hollywood Carrie, here stars as a high school sophomore shattered in every way that she can be by one of those school shootings so common in America that whatever most recent one I’m thinking of while writing will almost certainly be superseded by another by the time you’re reading this. Moretz’s Caitlin witnessed the murder of her best friend and several other students in the school library at the hands of the kind of furious, frustrated, neglected young man who perpetrates such atrocities. Though shot, Caitlin survives, just not in a life resembling her old one. A schoolmate (Daryl Sabara, believably Christ-driven) has told the cops and the press that Caitlin gave up her peers when the shooter asked where other students were hiding, which led to the deaths of several more kids. The community compares her example (an act “of fear”) with that of the young woman who is said to have led students in prayer as the bullets rained down (an act “of faith”).
Of course, Caitlin, questioned by the cops and her parents, insists that she didn’t tip the killer off and that the snitch actually had been the prayer-leader, whose mom (Lili Taylor) was already pursuing a book deal. But the details of her story shift, and she doesn’t sail through the polygraph, and suddenly her mother is mentioning magazine articles about false memories.
The trick, though: In this slippery drama of truth and trauma, Moretz’s striking Caitlin is preternaturally confident, a sparkling young woman with an almost regal bearing even when slumped in a sling and hoodie as detectives quiz her. The Caitlin we see never squares with the squirrelly, confused, not-quite-popular girl who admits under questioning that nobody asked her to homecoming — or who would be accused by her classmates of complicity. Also never clear is whether she ever doubts her own story or, until the climactic revelations, how much we should credit it.
Rich with the reportorial detail that has distinguished the author’s previous collaborations with director Soderbergh, including the films Side Effects and Contagion, Burns’s script honors the procedures of a crime’s aftermath more than it does the emotions of the participants. The best scenes concern Caitlin and family, considering a financial windfall to come if she admits to tipping off the killer.
Of the adult performers, the redoubtable Taylor is the standout as a mother whose grief, agitated by showy religiosity, pearls up into a monstrous — yet always calm — self-righteousness. The show benefits from the sleek, antiseptic look Soderbergh has applied to much of his filmwork. All white at first, the lightbox of a set resembles the inside of a spic-and-span microwave oven; Soderbergh and lighting designer David Lander do exquisite work with silhouettes and spots, the latter of which seem to radiate up and out of the troubled souls onstage rather than from some guiding hand above.