Maya Hawke at Flannery O’Connor in “Wildcat” 2023. IMDb photo

Here we are once again watching the work of director Ethan Hawke, one of Hollywood’s birds of paradise who flits from one tree to another in that land of artists looking for the right branch in which to build a permanent nest. Hawke’s problem, if it is one, is that he’s pretty good at all of them, not great, or up above the soiled clouds with the eagles.

Here he gives us the story of one of Southern America’s great writers, Flannery O’Connor, who, with Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee, was a “soul miner” who went deep into the darkness in which this reviewer once walked.

Hawke gives us the first dark act in O’Connor’s long, painful climb to make her nest in those trees.
Hawke gives us a parade of filmland’s best but underused “birds” like the gifted Laura Linney, who plays O’Connor’s mother.

Linney, another “bird’ who etches brightly a line of roles, comes along with O’Connor, who, while dragging the dark cross of lupus, a scar that killed her father and plagued O’Connor to the end of hers, makes her name in American writing.

Hawkes wisely cast his daughter Maya as O’Connor. She walks us through the painful 39 years of this writer’s life, before she died young from complications of lupus, as literature’s princess of darkness, making her name with Southern Gothic stories like “Wise Blood,” “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “Revelation,” “Parker’s Back” and “Good Country People.” They were laced with a series of Georgian backwoods chicken farmers, dead grass strugglers, religious conmen and Christian salesmen.

Hawkes gives us the juice of four of O’Connor’s stories mixed with scenes of her own painful attempts to bring to life the voices of those around her, using Linney and Maya (“Stranger Things” and “Asteroid City”) as characters in the plots.


I have only read one of O’Connor’s stories, and I got into that one because I was misled into thinking she was an “Irish” writer. At that reading, I was young and looking for an “angry” voice. I got it and was caught up in her settings and local souls.

Hawkes’s film won’t be anyone’s choice for a summer’s beach read. O’Connor’s life was truly a Southern Gothic walk up the Via Dolorosa of Christ’s last days as she spent the last 14 years of her life entombed in a room, laced with lupus pain and watching those cruel Southern suns fill her last days with disappointment.

Director Hawke is a talented man and has given us a few “thoughtful’ entertainments, but his journey here, an expensive walk in the darkness and down the halls into a drugged suffering body and dark dreams, is a path too cloudy, too absent of light to endure.

Daughter Maya, hopefully, has a brighter future than this, and at least a side cast of familiar faces like a miscast Liam Neeson, Vincent D’Onofrio and Steve Zahn bring a laugh in the darkness.

Shelby Gaines co-wrote with Hawkes. Cinematographer Steve Cosens did what was needed.

“Wildcat” will open at the Maine Film Center on May 17.


J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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