ReelBob: ‘Columbus’ ★★½

By Bob Bloom

Something is intrinsically off-kilter with a movie in which the scenery dwarfs the story and the actors.

Yet, that is the case with “Columbus,” a low-budget, independent movie shot in the small city of Columbus, Ind.

Columbus is well known for its modernist buildings, attracting people from around the world who visit to see its various structures.

“Columbus” is more about mood than people. A heavy air of melancholy pushes down on the movie like a weight, failing to crush the proceedings because it is counterbalanced by the overall beauty that is constantly in the background — silent witnesses as it were — to the messiness and complexities of human interactions.

Like the creation of a building, the movie is slow and methodical, continually adding layer upon layer, as each scene divulges a tiny bit more about the main characters.

Thus, “Columbus” will try your patience. Nothing much really happens. You watch in anticipation of some big reveal or a major event to unfold. But you get nothing.

As in real life, the film is basically a series of small moments that eventually lead to self-reflection and decisions about which life roads to travel.

The paths of two people from different backgrounds cross in Columbus, when Jin (John Cho) arrives from South Korea to visit his father, a famous architect scholar on a speaking tour who fell ill and was hospitalized while visiting the city.

Jin strikes up a friendship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architect enthusiast who works in the local library.

Casey, born and raised in Columbus, is at a crossroads in her life. Having graduated from high school a year earlier, she is clinging to Columbus, afraid to leave her mother, a recovering addict.

Jin and Casey explore the town, their emotions and relationships. Jin is estranged from his father, to whom he has not spoken for more than a year, and Casey continually checks up on her mother, afraid that she will relapse.

Jin and Casey are decent, but slightly damaged children, trying to cope with their perceived shortcomings of their parents.

Writer-director Kogonada uses the city’s architecture as a backdrop to reinforce the various mental states Jin and Casey experience.

Interspersed with their talks and confessions are scenes of people touring various sites around Columbus, just as we explore the minds of the protagonists.

The estrangement storyline is a staple of indie films, and “Columbus,” while stylish and attractive, is not that compelling.

Even the impressive structures throughout the city cannot disguise the fact that we’ve seen these characters before. They lack depth and, at times, appear as human props supporting the architecture.

“Columbus” is an interesting movie, but it’s one you will appreciate rather than enjoy.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

2½ stars out of 4
Not rated, language

  • ReelBob

    What is your take on “Columbus?” Was I too harsh? Share your views on the movie here at ReelBob.

  • Kelly B

    Wait, someone captured the existential angst of living in Columbus, Ind. perfectly? Wow.

  • ReelBob

    Well, not perfectly. The movie does try your patience.

  • Radjana Dugarova

    Unbelievably boring. Visual side is OK, but an album on Columbus’s architecture would have spared those 2 hours of my life. Completely agree with you: no depth, card-board characters, and their banal conversations.