The Retrieval (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) is a moving, heartfelt drama centered on a thirteen-year-old black boy, Will (Ashton Sanders), who serves as a kind of Judas Goat to a band of bounty hunters tracking escaped slaves in the midst of the American Civil. Will’s mercenary uncle Marcus (Keston John) tries to sell him to the head bounty hunter and bullies him when they set out to lure one last target into the arms of the gang. Nate (Tishuan Scott), a free man with a bounty on his head, is suspicious of Marcus but slowly warms to Will. As he becomes something of a father figure to the scared, brow-beaten boy, Will struggles with his conscience while leading Nate from freedom back to the slave states of the South. The high stakes of this situation—Will is an African-American boy in the south during the Civil War and an orphan under the control of an outlaw who threatens to kill him if he tries to escape—frame an intimate coming of age story on a vast canvas.
Filmmaker Chris Eska shoots the film against the alternately lovely and desolate landscapes of state parks and national forests in Eastern Texas, standing in for blurred lines of battle around Virginia. He hints at the broader war with a single battle scene, which is more of a chaotic skirmish in the brush that sends Will fleeing in panic. Sanders, whose open face and wide, nervous eyes communicate his vulnerability, gives Will a yearning for connection and a sincerity in conflict with his fear, and Scott brings a dignity and a sureness to Nate, a man who had to abandon everyone he loved to live free in the North. It’s quite powerful and very rewarding.
Blu-ray and DVD, with filmmaker commentary, a 48-minute cast and filmmaker Q&A, featurettes, and deleted scenes among the supplements.