thatcow

Illuminating

Brad Silberling is a journeyman TV director who has come out of nowhere to create one of the best films of the year. He directs, of course, but also has his first writing and producing credits on this masterpiece. Silberling knows his craft, but there is something special about this combination of story and emotion that transcends simply pointing a camera at some people.

Joe is staying with the parents of his fiancé Diana in a sleepy little New England town. Our first sequence is a funeral. It's Diana's funeral.

One of the most famous murders in showbusiness was that of Rebecca Schaeffer by an obsessed fan in 1989. Silberling had been dating her at the time, and the experience has obvious been a major influence in this project. These details of getting through each moment after Diana's death resonate on screen and in our hearts. How are you supposed to move on when you are surrounded by your fiancé's family, belongings, and even sleeping in her old bed?

The cast is first-rate. I've had doubts about Jake Gyllenhaal, but he pulls off a unique performance that hardly needs words. I don't remember the confused Donnie Darko that well, but his appearance in the predictably bad Bubble Boy showed some hints of potential that are more fully revealed in Moonlight Mile.

Diana's parents are played by the formidable pair of Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman. We might not fully get that these two are necessarily married to each other, but they certainly get across the depth of their pain and frustration with the loss of their daughter, complete with interesting and sympathetic character quirks. Hoffman tries to push on by immersing himself in his commercial real estate business, with Joe along for the ride as his new partner. His anger bubbles through again and again despite every effort to distract himself. Sarandon has a better view of the big picture and makes a more proactive attempt to deal with her pain, though her efforts are not necessarily conventional.

Throw in the mix Ellen Pompeo as Bertie, who befriends Joe, and eventually becomes his love interest. We also see Hollywood veterans Holly Hunter and Dabney Coleman in brief supporting roles. Even the unknowns and day players rise to the level of the material.

As for the title - it's a reference to a Rolling Stones song, which has particular significance to one of our characters. I keep coming back to titles, not liking that so many don't reflect the content of their films. This is an unusual case. The title is suggestive of a dark journey - which is what the movie is. Metaphoric titles are tricky, but somehow this one works.

Of course, the story isn't quite as simple as the setup. Things unfold with restraint, and what we are to learn is every bit as hard emotionally on the chracters as the Diana's death.

Good performances are all about talking around what's really going on. It's a combination of the script and these acting talents that can reveal in subtle ways the truth in the story. When the credits rolled, I found I didn't really want the movie to end. A sequel would be assuredly awful, but seeing these folk working together again would be wonderful to see.

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