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IN SHORT: Hidden secrets + Grief +incredible Guilt = huge flick. [Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and brief strong language. 120 minutes]
As we have written from time to time, a lot of what you get out of a movie depends upon what you bring into it, personally. Moonlight Mile is, at its core, about two people who find that perfect spark at a time when neither is looking for, nor even necessarily wants that perfect spark to ignite the flames of passion.
OK, that should've scared off the teens. Without a little life experience, MM "reads" like a chick flick. We thank writer/director Brad Silberberg for not going into extreme manipulation mode which makes Moonlight Mile more than just a chick flick. As for that personal experience bit, about fifteen years ago we lost a very close friend suddenly, in a very brutal accident that this flick evoked memories of. So, while we weren't incapacitated by memories, Moonlight Mile affected us enough that we didn't feel like writing for days.
Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal) has lost his fiancee, murdered simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victim that survived the attack was the shooter's girlfriend. The only other witness, according to ADA Mona Camp (Holly Hunter) is alcoholic and unreliable. Our trio face the possibility that the killer could get off with a manslaughter conviction, meaning a jail term of seven years instead of Life. That, of course, is unthinkable to what would have been a solid family unit if bullets hadn't flown. As the film progresses and their individual interrelations fray and splinter as all sorts of guilt and secrets leak to the surface, their ability to stand (or in this case, sit in the front row of the courthouse) together is in doubt.
Ben Floss (Dustin Hoffman, click for StarTalk), father of the victim, buys and sells commercial real estate. His reaction to the tragedy is to devote himself to work. He's got a big investor that wants to do a major, secret deal and buy up Main Street and rip it down to build a megamall. It's 1973 -- megamalls were a new thing back then. JoJo (Susan Sarandon, click for StarTalk), the victim's mother, stops work altogether. She was a writer, and replaces her anger with a sharp, sardonic tongue.
And, while Joe's parental units are never mentioned, his substitute almost-but-never-to-be in laws have to face the possibility that Joe may have begun to fall out of their circle. May have moved on. May have found another. Youth are like that.
Joe's working on the megamall project and has as his assignment locking up the resale rights to "Cal's Place," the local bar. That means find the owner and make a deal, without spilling the beans and thus driving up the price. In this case, the owner is MIA in Vietnam and the lady watching over the place, also local postal clerk, Bertie Knox (Ellen Pompeo), strikes that spark. Each venture into the darkness of Cal's, the only meeting spot in town -- a town suffering a man shortage because of the War -- brings Joe and Bertie together. He doesn't want to commit to a new relationship. She doesn't want to admit that Cal is more than likely not coming back. Ben wants to know why the deal hasn't been closed. And on it goes.
And each of our three primary characters has something that they're not telling the other. Those secrets, all revealed by actions in the magnificent performances of Gyllenhaal, Sarandon and Hoffman are the key to what makes Moonlight Mile a dynamite, serious film.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Moonlight Mile, he would have paid . . .
Except for Silberberg's tendency to linger on the faces of his characters as if to say goodbye, at the end of the piece, Moonlight Mile moves well and is a fine sit.
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