After arriving in Columbus, Indiana, a visiting Korean architecture professor falls to the ground and is taken to hospital. The man's estranged son, Jin (John Cho) is summoned and travels from Seoul to be by his father's bedside. Jin waits for news about his father while wandering around the streets of Columbus, a city famed for its remarkable collection of modernist buildings.
Jin soon crosses paths with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who works in the city's library. Casey is a proud Columbus native who is a little in love with the beauty of the town's built environment. She wishes to pursue a career in architecture, a path that will invariably lead to studying and working away from Columbus, but she is resigned to sticking around to care for her single mother, who is battling her own demons.
Jin and Casey are both, for the moment, stranded, and spark up a friendship. Much of it involves touring the city's famed buildings. Jin, seeking to get out from his father's shadow, works as a translator and professes a lack of interest in architecture. Casey doesn't seek to convert him, but instead remains proud of her hometown and its architecture, and sets about trying to express this, as well as her problems with her mother and her unsatisfactory job. Their relationship evolves, with layers added as the film progresses.
The feature-film debut from director Kogonada, Columbus is a beautiful and evocative film. It's careful and quiet: whenever someone says something it is always very considered and in no way unreasonable. The plot is simple and thin, but the wonderful exploration of the characters through their conversations render getting from one point to another largely unimportant.
Aside from stellar lead performances from Hayley Lu Richardson as Casey and John Cho as Jin, the supporting cast of Parker Posey as Jin's father's assistant and Rory Culkin as Casey's library colleague are similarly fantastic. Equally as important a character in the film is the city of Columbus itself. The city's odd but magnificent buildings are rendered gorgeously on the big screen, whether they are centre frame or serving as backdrops to Jin and Casey's meanderings. Surrounding all of the buildings is intense greenery, lush and sparsely populated, vivid on the screen.
Columbus is a slow and measured film where liberties have been taken that wouldn't be in the mainstream. But the result is well worth it. The film's cinematography and editing are done masterfully. And touring the amazing interiors and exteriors of the city is worth the price of admission alone. But Columbus boasts numerous charms, and film enthusiasts should seek them out.