“The Parts You Lose” is a simple but haunting coming-of-age drama revolving around a young deaf boy who happens to be involved in one very tricky circumstance. While its melancholic presentation of his gradual loss of innocence is familiar to the core, the movie still holds our attention via its mood, details, performances to be appreciated, and it is poignant to observe what he comes to lose as opening his eyes more to the world surrounding him.
In the beginning, the movie slowly establishes the mundane wintry daily life of Wesley (Danny Murphy), a lonely 10-year-old deaf boy who lives in a small rural town of North Dakota. While he attends a local school for deaf children, he is not particularly close to any student in the school, and he has also often been bullied by one of his schoolmates. At his home, his mother Gail (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) genuinely cares about him, but she is often occupied with the family’s current financial problems, and his father Ronnie (Scoot McNairy) does not show much affection to him while frequently absent for working or drinking.
And then there comes an unexpected happening. Not long after some big incident occurs in the middle of the town, Wesley happens to encounter an unconscious man lying on a remote snowy road while he is returning from his school. When he comes back along with his father, that man in question is somehow gone, but he subsequently finds the man at some other spot during the following night, and he takes the man to an abandoned barn not so far from his home.
While frequently sticking to its young hero’s viewpoint, the movie gradually lets us gather what is going on. The man (Aaron Paul) is one of several fugitives who has been chased by the police, and he managed to escape alive during a disastrous shootout between the police and his criminal group, though he got seriously injured at that time. Once he regains his consciousness in the barn, he demands Wesley to help him, and Wesley innocently follows his demand without any hesitation. Besides helping the man taking care of his injury, he also provides the man some food, and the man comes to depend more on Wesley as the police continues to search for the man. Although he has a plan for escape, he needs to stay low for several days at least, and Wesley does not mind at all as regarding the man as a friend.
It is clear to us from the beginning that survival is the main priority for the man, but he gives Wesley some kindness and friendship as they come to spend more time with each other. Besides playing checkers with Wesley, he teaches Wesley how to deal with his school bully, and we accordingly a small tense scene where Wesley applies what he learned from the man to his bully.
Meanwhile, the situation around them becomes more serious than before. At one point, Gail and Wesley are visited by a federal agent, who seems to sense something odd from Wesley and gives him what can be interpreted as an indirect warning. As getting exasperated frustrated more and more with how his current life is going nowhere without any bright prospect, Ronnie drinks more than before, and there is a frightening moment when he becomes suspicious of his son while quite inebriated as usual.
Around that point, we can clearly sense where the story is going, but the movie keeps holding our attention as diligently building up narrative momentum along the plot. The screenplay by Darren Lemki is plain but efficient in its economic storytelling, and director Christopher Cantwell and his crew members including cinematographer Evans Brown did a commendable job of filling the screen with an palpable sense of bleakness and loneliness, which is often accentuated by the occasional shots of wide and snowy landscapes.
Above all, the movie depends a lot on the good natural performance of Danny Murphy, a young British deaf performer who did not have much acting experience before appearing here in this film. In addition to bringing considerable authenticity to his role as expected, Murphy ably handles several key scenes where he has to convey to us his character’s thoughts and feelings without expressing much on the surface, and that is why it is heartbreaking to see when his character suddenly becomes a little more active than usual at a certain narrative point later in the movie.
In case of a few notable main cast members surrounding Murphy, they all give fine performance while never overshadowing him. While Aaron Paul, who is mainly known for his Emmy-winning supporting turn in TV drama series “Breaking Bad”, is alternative sympathetic and menacing, Elizabeth Mary Winstead, an ever-reliable but criminally overlooked veteran actress who incidentally appeared along with Paul in “Smashed” (2012), brings some warmth to the movie as a mother trying her best for her son, and Scoot McNairy, who has been quite ubiquitous since his memorable lead performance in “Monsters” (2010), is sour and bitter as required.
Although it looks rather modest on the whole, “The Parts You Lose” is admirable for its competent aspects, and its several quiet but strong emotional moments will linger on you for a while when it is over. Our young hero indeed grows up in the end, but, as shown from the final scene of the movie, things will never be the same for him – and he has no choice but to move on for himself.