The theme of forgiveness and the difficulty of it, especially in an
atmosphere of deep grief, is well woven with character and insight into a
finely structured dramatic fabric. The richness of it is all the more so for
the inclusion of two mature actors, a glamour actress who struggles against
critical invective but here doing her best work, and a pure and natural teen
in her 2nd picture -- all guided by a director of proven sensitivity.
After the death of her husband, Jean Gilkyson finds herself in an unenviable
relationship with a batterer, with whom she and her teenage daughter Griff
have been living. But one punch too many with the usual next morning
apologies has her finally waking up to realities and taking off down the
With little money and shaky optimism, all options break down when their car
throws a piston. Jean can think of only one option. When she tells Griff
they're going to her grandfather in Wyoming, the youngster is incredulous.
"I have a grandfather?" Pause. "When were you going to tell me?" But Jean
has good reason for not having mentioned it all these years. Father-in-law
Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) holds her responsible for his dear boy's
Sure enough, at the sight of them on his ranch, he orders them to make an
about face. It's only because of the granddaughter he didn't know about
until that instant that he allows them to remain until Jean can earn enough
money to leave.
Living on the ranch with Einar and under his faithful care is invalid,
ex-ranchhand Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Every day, since Mitch was
mauled by a bear that lives in the surrounding hills, the routine has been for
Einar to inject a dose of morphine into his tough old hide, feed him and
sustain the salty humor that keeps things going. And, yes, to do just about
everything Mitch might ask for, like not shooting the animal, like seeing to
it that it is safely captured and put into the local animal zoo.
So, Einar is a man with a deep resentment toward the daughter-in-law who was
at the wheel when the car accident killed his son, and a deep sense of guilt
about being too drunk to ward off the bear when it assaulted his pard. He
grieves regularly at his son's grave on a hill overlooking his spread and,
without a ranchhand, sold off his cattle in order to remain on his land.
Now, his unalterable habits are going to undergo a few changes.
They start with his acceptance of little Griff as an open, inquisitive helper
who begins to fill in the gaping hole in his life.
Director Lasse Halstrom isn't afraid of the sentimental, or the pushing of a
metaphor. With "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "the Cider House Rules," and
"The Shipping News," he has certainly demonstrated his taste for superb
writing and a level of creativity that takes sentiment to the plateau of
thoughtful drama with actors who enrich every minute.
And, surprisingly, I don't exclude Ms. Lopez in this. After such fatuous
fare as "Gigli," "Maid in Manhattan," "Shall We Dance," and "Monster-in-Law,"
I actually enjoyed her tough and sexy presence in this company. I'm not
forgiving her the airheaded, commercial credits in her recent past, but
truth be told, she's just fine here, stern, steady, striving and contending
against difficult odds.
As for the two guys, Redford and Freeman are national treasures who need
nothing more than credible dialogue and a tasty story to provide a movie an
abundance of fascination. They're flinty and solid, the kind of people who
make a $12-15 boxoffice tab actually seem appropriate.
Becca Gardner is the kind of naturally gifted child actor whose intuitive
presence is serious and satisfying, and her performance here shouldn't be
missed. The Fanning sisters aren't the only girl wonders of the acting
community. Camryn Manheim as Nina, the local restaurateur and supportive
lady, showed me that my distaste for her overbearing boorishness as Ellenor
Frutt on "The Practice" TV series was just a matter of context. And, lastly,
Josh Lucas is on point as attractive local Sheriff Crane Curtis who has the
qualities to attract the widow's enforcement needs and attention.
The outcome is entirely predictable, but the experience of getting there --
while not gripping -- is calmly satisfying.
~~ Jules Brenner