Pitch two of the greatest actors of their generation into an ethical pickle during a hot, sticky holiday weekend in 1987, and you have one of the best films of the year so far. (Yes, it’s only January, but by October you’ll be longing for some quality, so get it while you can.)
Kate Winslet delivers the flawless performance we’ve now come to expect following Revolutionary Road, The Reader and Little Children, as a paralytically deserted single mom raising her doting son in smalltown America. Virtually housebound, the townsfolk silently accept Adele’s oddity as she relies on young Henry (a superbly mature Gattlin Griffith from Changeling) to play Man of the House now his dad has left. Their insular world is disrupted one summer’s day when an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) charismatically forces his way into the emotional voids each is nursing.
Adapted by Joyce Maynard (To Die For) from her own novel and directed by Jason Reitman (responsible for such indie beauties as Up in the Air and Thank You For Smoking), this is a beautiful, gentle, beguiling film which also manages to be enormously gripping. Tiny fragments of back story are shown economically through silent scenes in which relative newcomer Tom Lipinski is perfectly cast as the younger Brolin, while the central narrative pushes forward, so rich in detail and atmosphere it feels like it covers far more than a Labor weekend of time.
Central to the film’s wonder are the performances. Brolin (let’s cite No Country for Old Men rather than the disappointing Gangster Squad) is impeccable – a crim of uncertain provenance who knows how to make the best peach pie, instructing the shell-shocked Adele: “If the phone rings when you’re making a crust, you just let ’em call you back”. The couple’s chemistry is either a testament to their acting prowess or simply one reason why both are such big stars, but no less intoxicating for its inevitability. As Adele sheds the ill-fitting clothes and straggly hair and blossoms under his hothouse attentions, Brolin’s Frank rapidly becomes the poster boy for Stockholm syndrome.
Tense, romantic and perfectly pitched, this simple tale focuses on high quality drama over tricksy plotting or dazzling camerawork. Plus it has the best pie recipe you’ll ever see.