Perfectly formed minor masterpiece by writer/director Brad Silberling that was ravaged by the critics when it first came out. It's best not to know anything about this film, just watch it and let it grab you. Strong cast on top form with Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, newcomer Ellen Pompeo and Holly Hunter.
Nugget: bravely drawn-out exposition keeps you learning about the characters throughout the film.
Read the full review on FilmExposed.
[Update: Friday 17 June 2011: looks like FilmExposed is no more, so that link is broken. But, lucky for you, I kept a backup.]
Jake Gyllenhaal 4-Disc Box Set: Moonlight Mile DVD (15)
Dir: Brad Silberling, 2002, USA, 114 mins
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo, Holly Hunter
Joe Nast (Gyllenhaal)'s fiancée is dead: shot as a bystander in a smalltown New England diner. He's staying with her parents Ben and Jojo Floss (Hoffman and Sarandon) for the funeral and its aftermath. They treat him like a son-in-law. There are warm bonds between them, beyond just the dead girl they have in common. Yet Joe isn't being quite honest with the Flosses or with himself.
Writer/director Brad Silberling has produced a perfectly crafted minor masterpiece. Impeccably acted by a strong cast, including Holly Hunter as Mona Camp, the lawyer prosecuting the man who murdered the Floss' daughter. Newcomer Ellen Pompeo plays Bertie Knox, a girl Joe meets who is also going through a grieving process for her lost lover, Cal.
Set around 1973, the unrest in the outside world is a faint background to the Floss' problems. The family dog is called Nixon and it's implied that Cal is missing in Vietnam. Like the soundtrack of low-key B-sides, these details deftly determine the mood. (The music never screams "Listen to me!" like Tarantino or John Williams.) Silberling admits he writes to music and encouraged his actors to listen to the same songs on set. The lyrics often complement the onscreen situation.
Hoffman and Sarandon are a natural couple. Their imperfect but loving marriage is indelibly plausible. They seem to be coping admirably with their daughter's death; but each character in turn chokes towards their breakdown. When the three of them are sitting in front of the TV, Ben cryptically acknowledges, "I almost slipped and he broke my fall," at once thanking Joe for rescuing him in a moment of emotional weakness, while protecting Jojo from this knowledge. Gyllenhaal gives an assured performance, much of his acting without words (he jokes on the commentary that he's all "ums" and ellipses); yet when he does speak, the lines are flawlessly delivered.
The relationships between the characters aren't telegraphed; they emerge gradually through dialogue. Joe is so intimate with the Flosses that it appears at first he's their son. The lost fiancée/daughter, Dianne, is a constant presence in the film, and yet she only appears in a glimpsed photograph, a half-waking dream. (No need for schmaltzy flashbacks.) In some ways the film is about how a person lives on in the lives of the people who loved her. In a typically delicate touch, Jojo wears her daughter's watches, winding them each day, as if to keep her alive by keeping her time going.
The plot revolves to reveal its unironed creases, keeping us interested without gimmicks. The exposition extends well beyond the hour-mark: a brave filmmaking decision; one that is closer to a play script. It's best to know as little as possible about this film, just to watch it and let it grip you.
Includes two commentary tracks by the director, and the director and cast (Hoffman and Gyllenhaal) with some amusing rapport and fascinating insights into the filmmaking process; deleted scenes with director's commentary; and a 22-minute bog standard promotional "making of" documentary about casting and production.
Also in the collection:
DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT
THE GOOD GIRL