Monday, October 21, 2002
Moonlight Mile / ** (2002)
Now Silberling is a director I admire greatly, a man who was actually able to remake a foreign masterpiece ("Wings of Desire") into an equally wonderful romance ("City of Angels") a few years back. "Moonlight Mile," his latest work, is said to be directly inspired by the devastating loss of his own girlfriend and the events that played out years earlier, but the cinematic result is a surprisingly vapid approach, exercised by ambiguity and simplicity until the viewer feels like it is being gagged to death. One would think a man behind the camera with such close ties to his source material could actually guide the project to some kind of respectable outcome, but no such luck here. The movie is like a series of vague cliff notes, teasing a much greater story without actually capturing emotion or perspective.
Inarguably, Gyllenhaal's Joe appears to be the stand-in for Silberling's own personal experience; he's a young and inexperienced guy who, just days before the movie opens, is delivered news that his soon-to-be wife is murdered at the local diner by random person (although in real life, the girlfriend was an actress killed by a crazed fan). During the first scenes of "Moonlight Mile," we watch on in sympathy as Joe and his fiancee's parents, Ben and JoJo Floss (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon) struggle to make it through a funeral and reception without breaking down on the spot over the immense tragedy that has swooped into their lives.
The girl's parents are somewhat obvious in their efforts—Ben is the optimist who tries to stall his feelings by starting up unrelated conversations, while JoJo chooses to gossip about her guests like they were artificial—but Joe's behavior is quiet and secluded, not even willing to reveal a reaction in private to himself, much less to his potential in-laws. Somehow, someway, their silent but brooding sense of grief keeps them united under the quiet household, and just when we expect Joe to move on and bid his farewells, he stays anchored to the family, partly because of obligation but more because, as it is made clear later, he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life yet. Ben later makes him a copartner at his local real estate firm, but only because the kid's own sense of values is too undermined to make him refuse the offer.
... And then the movie drags on and on, forcing us to slog our way through endless waves of scenes until the moment arrives when one of the three main players finally falls out of the bubble and actually unleashes their grief instead of hiding it. Needless to say, that necessity isn't offered on the plate until the last 20 minutes of the film, during a crucial scene in a courtroom where Joe is asked to testify at the trial of his love's murderer. And even then, the delivery is not anything near to what it should be; the emotion begins to glide with the words, but once the speech is over, so is everything else.
On an acting term, each of the stars at least have a few isolated scenes of triumph over the poor writing. Sarandon is generally the scene-stealer of the whole tearjerker show, especially towards the beginning when her sense of coping with loss is twisted into detest for those who try to sympathize with her. Hoffman, meanwhile, has two very award-caliber moments in the second act, one when his character visits the diner where his daughter was killed for the first time since her death, and another where he finally stops ignoring everyone and tries to deal with the fact that his little girl is never coming home. And Gyllenhaal, the young actor who nearly crucified himself on screen last year in "Bubble Boy," does a solid, if somewhat contrived, job in the lead, especially when the story calls for his character to admit hidden truths.
But where, oh where, does this movie want to take us in the end? Heck if I know. Silberling's own personal loss reflected in "Moonlight Mile" is no doubt still a little painful for him to think about, but if he insists on making us feel the same way, he could have done a better job simply by telling us.
Written by DAVID KEYES
Cast & Crew info:
Jake Gyllenhaal: Joe Nast
Dustin Hoffman: Ben Floss
Susan Sarandon: JoJo Floss
Holly Hunter: Mona Camp
Ellen Pompeo: Bertie Knox
Dabney Coleman: Mike Mulcahey
Produced by Ashok Amritraj, Brian W. Cook, David Hoberman, Mark Johnson, Susan Sarandon, Brad Silberling, Patricia Whitcher; Directed and screenwritten by Brad Silberling
Drama (US); Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and brief strong language; Running Time - 112 Minutes