Forever made famous as bushy browed, disgruntled Lou Grant on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” beloved actor Ed Asner went on to many other roles in features, documentaries, voice-overs and political issues. Despite his death in 2021, his last starring feature was released this year. It was his crowning achievement.
I hardly recognized him. He spoke with a German-Yiddish accent, his heavy black eyebrows were white and his puffed up face belied an uncommon gentleness. Though filmed while he was 90, he was sharp, seasoned, and brilliant as Samuel, a Holocaust survivor.
Samuel (Asner) serendipitously ends up befriending a young teenager, 14-year-old Casey (played with uncommon, startling naturalness by newcomer Margot Josefsohn), who has a swastika on her leather jacker. It turns out she is a runaway/castaway.
By castaway, I mean her mother is in trouble and can’t adequately parent or make her daughter a priority. The solution is to send Casey from her home in Ohio to her father and his new family in LA.
Casey arrives but realizes her dad and family are less than interested in a new family addition. So, basically cast away by both parents, her ego tells her she can make it without them. Then she is pick-pocketed and homeless. Samuel finds her asleep in the cemetery where he regularly visits his wife.
A seriously unlikely friendship begins. But please suspend your cynicism and look at the greater picture. Samuel, in his last days, is preparing for death. Though he has great reasons to be judgmental and unforgiving, he has shifted in his late age into becoming a vessel for God’s use. Through him, and through his own suffering, his purpose is to save Casey.
The embodiment of the savior and the sinner is a stunningly remarkable feat by both actors. How much did Asner prod, train and inspire the young Josefsohn to such a rich, natural performance? I don’t know.
The gifted director, Rafal Zielinski, in his director’s statement refers back to Buddhist master Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) “…that in forgiving we have to just as much forgive ourselves as others – it is a form of unburdening ourselves from the pain of the past – and we are able to become light and free to move on.”
Zielinksi has taken Gina Wendkos’s somewhat quirky script and made it into a majesty. He has captured an inspiring end of life journey. If they have posthumous Oscar Awards, Ed Asner’s got it. “Tiger Within” spans time and generations with a gripping force of spiritual magnitude.
Director: Rafal Zielinski
Writer: Gina Wendkos (The Princess Diaries, Coyote Ugly)
Cast: Ed Asner, Margot Josefsohn and Diego Josef
Release: July 7, 2023
Official Website: https://tigerwithin.info/
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