A blind man regains his sight in The Ticket, which plays like a one-stanza fable extended to feature-length screenplay without any complexity added to the moralizing. The title refers to an anecdote within the anecdote, a yarn about a man who prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket. The central character touched by the miracle of vision tells this story several times to hammer home its meaning, which isn’t far off from the strategy of The Ticket.
James (Dan Stevens), who has been blind his entire adult life, awakes one day with his eyesight restored. It’s blurry at first, but then the world around him comes into view. Terrence Malick would probably appreciate that the first thing James sees is a curtain gently swaying in the breeze. This initial image – the first five minutes of the film are dialogue over a swirling black and brown kaleidoscope simulating sightlessness – isn’t the only Malickian picture utilized by director/co-writer Ido Fluk. At one point, the camera follows a beautiful woman walking in a wide-open field. She even twirls a little.
Before developing his keen male gaze, James regards his hands with wonder. For good reason, sure, but the preciousness is a little thick. The practical amazement is far more effective, like when he first ambles through his home and is overcome by seeing his wife Sam (Malin Akerman) and their son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) for the first time. A quick trip to the optometrist reveals that a tumor has shrunk providing some, however improbable, reason for the magical occurrence.
The mix of abstract and grounded parable is used solely as a blunt instrument to plow through the straight-talking script. James realizes his hair looks better with pomade in it. He starts to work out and wears a suit to work. He picks up on social cues, mostly from potentially interested women, including coworker Jessica (Kerry Bishé).
All of the newfound sensory experiences put a strain on James’ marriage. Internal debate begins about his simple life and there are questions raised about why he and Sam got together. He’s disappointed by his modest home. You could forgive him for being turned off by the tacky wallpaper in seemingly every room. The most interesting angle is if the blindness played a role in Sam’s settling down, but that’s only explored superficially, not unlike James’ transformation into shallow status-climber.
Suddenly confident at work, James moves from the call center of a dishonest real estate refinancing company into the role of superstar swindler. He leads seminars offering financial advice to saps who might sell their homes to his firm at a discounted rate. In so many words, his blind friend Bob (Oliver Platt), who he left behind in the cubicle farm, stands in front of James and reminds him how he’s changed.
The solemnity of Platt and Akerman makes sense and paints them as compassionate, sympathetic figures, despite the disappointing lack of dimension given to their put-upon characters. Stevens, though, is never callous enough to be completely disgusted by, nor conflicted enough to generate empathy. The psychological makeover is too plainly sketched to feel much about his actions either way.
Obviously structured, The Ticket moves dispassionately through predicable beats and revelations. James’ frostiness may be part of the point, but the reticence doesn’t make his arc engaging. All we’re left with is the lesson of a man being blinded by his misplaced ambition. Or maybe it’s that he should’ve appreciated what he had. Or that he won’t realize what he had until it’s gone. However you want to state the clichés, the trite messages of The Ticket quickly fade.