Go Ahead, Watch Palmer and Tell Me Justin Timberlake Isn’t a Great Actor

Dept. of Tearin' Up My Heart


I’m going to just say it. Justin Timberlake is a really good actor. And not just in a look-it’s-former-boyband-turned-solo-artist-turned-actor stunt casting kind of way either. Justin Timberlake is a really good dramatic actor. Don’t believe me? Then Palmer, the new movie on Apple TV+ film will change your mind.

Palmer tells the story of, well, Palmer, as played by Justin Timberlake as he tries to get his life back on track after 12 years in prison. He moves back in with his grandmother in rural Louisiana, and finds himself caring for a flamboyant young boy named Sam. The story is a simple one but what director Fisher Stevens does with it, and his lead actor, is immense. The best way to describe Palmer the movie and Palmer the character is quiet strength. 

Justin Timberlake in Apple TV+ Palmer.

Palmer (the movie) is unassuming in it’s messaging. In its 110 minute run time, it never screams its message of acceptance or family. Palmer isn’t loud the way Hillbilly Elegy was. Palmer isn’t showy the way The Devil All The Time was. Palmer isn’t a tear-jerker. It doesn’t scream at you for recognition. The movie is filled with quiet moments of pain, and guilt, and strength.

Palmer the character embodies all these emotions, and Justin Timberlake brings it all to bare with such competence that you really start to wonder why he isn’t in more movies. Throughout the movie Timberlake plays Palmer as a guy who has found himself in this situation through his own bad decisions. He knows he screwed up, but he isn’t trying to atone for it or make excuses. He isn’t looking for a grand gesture to earn the faith of his community, or to redeem himself. He just wants to keep his head down and survive. Which makes the grand gesture that he does do all the more powerful when it comes. 

Palmer’s acceptance of Sam is never a big heartwarming moment. It’s a growth that he goes through over the course of the movie. His love grows. And so does his need to protect and save. Timberlake’s performance, when he’s quietly driving at night, or when he sits alone at a bar, or just trying to keep his head down as he works as a janitor, showcases a real maturity in acting. You feel every bit of the weight on his shoulders as he returns to watch the football game in the school he was a hero. You feel the anger rise in him when Sam is threatened and hurt. 

Ryder Allen is Sam in Apple TV+'s Palmer.

Speaking of Sam, Ryder Allen is a joy to watch. He plays the part with such unbridled happiness, one that seems almost oblivious to the pains that lay ahead for the character. Watching the chemistry grow between Sam and Palmer is just magnetic.

Justin Timberlake and Ryder Allen in Palmer.

Is Palmer award bait? I don’t think so. It isn’t the big bombastic movie with big bombastic performances we’ve come to expect from award bait movies (see: the aforementioned Hillbilly Elegy and The Devil All The Time). But Palmer really is a very good movie.

Oh, and side note, if the name of director Fisher Stevens seems remotely familiar, it’s because he was Ben Jabituya in Short Circuit, and Eugene “The Plague” Belford in Hackers.

You know, this guy.

Palmer is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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