With "The Historian," writer-director-star Miles Doleac mines, with decided veracity, his experiences as an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. Unfortunately, he hasn't quite passed the filmmaking final as evidenced by this overlong and under-finessed look at the politics of academia.
The movie, shot at Southern Miss, tracks the year-plus journey of Ben Rhodes (Doleac), a visiting university classics professor working under the watchful eyes of a budget-conscious dean (Glynnis O'Connor) and the humorless, bullying department chairman, Valerian Hadley (William Sadler).
For a supposedly smart guy, Rhodes makes some fairly dumb moves, particularly those involving his dual campus squeezes — hyper-bubbly grad student Anna (Jillian Taylor) and sultry professor Stacey (Leticia Jimenez) — as well as his mousy ex-wife (Vickie Hall).
Meanwhile, Hadley, a thoroughly miserable character if there ever was one, is the frustrated caregiver to his elderly father (John Cullum), an erstwhile success in construction now suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
The film toggles between Rhodes' and Hadley's sporadically intersecting, often forced stories, rarely finding a satisfying focus or rhythm as things devolve into perfunctory melodrama.
The appealing Doleac, who also produced, acquits himself as an actor. But as a director, he shows a wobbly visual sense and an uneven hand with his cast, especially newcomer Taylor and the manic Colin Cunningham as a gonzo fellow historian. Veteran actors Sadler, Cullum and O'Connor do their best in formulaic roles but also could have used some firmer guidance.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.