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aurora borealis
Click for full sized poster

Aurora Borealis

Starring Joshua Jackson, Donald Sutherland, Juliette Lewis and Louise Fletcher
Screenplay by Brent Boyd
Directed by James Burke

IN SHORT: Best indieflick if not best of the Year (so far) # 2. [Rated R for Language . 110 minutes]

In the eleven or so we've been writing reviews under the Cranky Critic brand name, we've seen far too many "intimate" stage plays fall apart as they attempt to enlarge themselves for the big screen. Aurora Borealis is not that kind of film. It's not a rewrite from the stage either. What it is is that remarkable kind of "small" independent film that feels like a really good stage play -- the writing is good enough that the script wouldn't have much problem reblocking itself for the proscenium stage. Add to that observation some terrific performances by actors young and old and you get that "best of the year" slug. You also get to see Kiefer Sutherland's dad strut his stuff in a way he hasn't been able to do for years.

Ten years before the film begins is the death of one David Shorter. Son of Ronald and Ruth. Father to Duncan and Jacob. Officially, the cause of death is a heart attack. The younger son, Duncan, believes dad backslid into a cocaine habit he had supposedly beaten, and exploded his heart. The result is a family that has never confronted the details of what happened way back when. That heaviness hovers over the family even as the elder Ronald Shorter (Donald Sutherland) begins to slip into the first stages of Alzheimer's disease.

From experience, we can tell you that knowing what is happening is more a blessing than it sounds. Ronald could be slipping into flat out senility, which means he wouldn't have the slightest idea what was happening (we write from the experience of seeing our grandfather his sister slip away). But -- a really big but -- this is not the center of the story. It is just a piece of a very well developed set of characters portrayed by a terrific ensemble cast.

In this story, Ronald knows he is not as vital as his younger self once was. His hands shake with palsey. His kidney's are failing. His wife Ruth (Louise Fletcher), behind his back, is secretly searching out nursing homes as his condition becomes too much for her to handle. Ronald wants to go out with some semblance of dignity, perhaps like old eskimos do -- walking out into the icy frigid wastes up north, under the glowing Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis of the film's title. Or maybe he can get one of the kids to help put him out of his evergrowing misery.

As for those grandkids, their stories counterbalance the awful truth of old age. Duncan (Joshua Jackson), the younger of two deals with his grandfather's worsening condition by taking a menial job in the retirement home the grandfolk live in. Closeness to grandpa in the last days brings another kind of closeness, one with Grandpa's home healthcare provider Kate (Juliette Lewis). Duncan's reaction to his father's death -- what happened to mom either isn't addressed or we just missed it -- was to slack off. When he works, he goofs off and gets fired. Most of his spending income seems to come from the pocket of older brother Jacob (Steven Pasquale), who uses Duncan's apartment for extramarital trysts with girlfriend Sandy (Katie Griffin). Of course, Jacob's adoring wife Cara (Krista Bridges) is at home with the two little girl kidlets and she's never ever gonna find out . . . yeah, right.

Knowing what is coming won't take away the surprise as it happens. We've already said as much as we can without getting the film makers to sic a kill squad on us. "Best of the Year" honors only goes so far, dontcha know . . .

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Aurora Borealis , he would have paid . . .


Aurora Borealis isn't some heavy duty, bawl your eyes out chick flick. It is adult drama that comes at you gently. Telling you to just sit and let it wash over you may seem to be the antithesis of "cranky" but that's what you have to do with this serious and superior film.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.