The Letter Room (2020)
Dir: Elvira Lind
What is ‘The Letter Room’?
It’s where the mail in and out of a prison is checked for contraband, escape plans and anything else prohibited.
Who works there?
Oscar Isaac’s character, Richard, a corrections officer who is shown as treating the inmates very kindly is ‘promoted’ to work alone in this office. Qualities like his are not often attributed to the prison officers in films and television, warm and empathetic he stands apart and is good company for the half-hour runtime.
Why isn’t he thrilled with his new job?
Richard is eager to get a job in human relations, we see clearly that he enjoys building a rapport with the prisoners, yet this new position is not what he had in mind. He lives alone, spending his evenings watching telenovelas but yearns for personal connection. He gets his new job just three minutes in, but the character has been so well established that you already understand why he’s gutted, we’ve seen him in his element already, so well acted by Isaac that we feel for him and can read his emotions, disappointed that instead of developing interpersonal relationships, he’s relocated into an office on his own away from everyone else.
How do things develop?
Drawn into the deeply intimate correspondence sent to one death row inmate, Richard notices something in one letter that instantly changes the tone of his job, and the film, adding urgency and a complex moral dilemma, which he as a caring person is compelled to go above and beyond his duty for. This leads to a fascinating interaction that refines Richard’s understanding of his new role and how he can better accomplish his aspirations within it.
Where can I watch this?
It’s available on Topic, which may not be a streaming service you’re familiar with or were ever intending to subscribe to. They have a free trial, and I’d say that it’s worth taking them up on that offer for the sake of this excellent short film alone, though there are others on the service that are award-nominated.
Nominated for ‘Best Live Action Short Film’ at the Academy Awards, I’ve not yet seen any of the other competing nominees yet, but they’ll have to be pretty great to be a better example of short-form storytelling than this.