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MOONLIGHT MILE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Holly Hunter, Ellen Pompeo, Dabney Coleman
Director: Brad Silberling
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2003

“Joe, what are you going to do…without our girl?”

“Jojo, I have no idea.”

Film ****

In everyone’s life, there’s been a point when we’ve lost someone very close to us, sometimes due to even a heinous act. After the loss, grieving is the ultimate process, but it is dealt with differently by everybody, and as illustrated in the absorbing Moonlight Mile, the feeling of loss is simply hard to embrace. The film is a much personal one to that of its writer/director Brad Silberling, who suffered a loss of his own when his then-girlfriend, actress Rebecca Schaeffer, was tragically killed by an obsessed fan. Silberling, as a result of the loss, grew very close to her parents, and Silberling has translated his own experience to the wonderful screenplay that tells of a much similar dilemma. For that reason alone, Moonlight Mile is a very courageous piece that touches in on the healing process, which is difficult for most people to endure.

Set in 1973, the movie begins with the introduction of Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal), the fiancée of the dead girl, and her parents, Ben and Jojo Floss (Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon). The young girl, Diane, was murdered by an accidental shooting in a restaurant, which is never shown, but is made clear. They are preparing to head out for the funeral proceedings, which occur in the way most funerals do. Following the after party, after the last guests have left the house, Jojo immediately criticizes how most of the guests expressed their sympathy. It’s right then and there where realize that they don’t intend to handle this with much sentimentality, which is a marvel stroke of originality.

Joe has found himself in a most rare life position. He is now living under the same roof with the Floss’. His plans were originally, after going through with the marriage, to go into a commercial realty business with Ben. Now that the marriage has obviously been altered in a catastrophic way, Joe quietly questions whether he must value the role that was set for him, as his entire future is at the moment put on hold. From the Floss’ perspective, they seem on going on with things as planned. He is also haunted every night by dreams of Diane, which doesn’t help much.

Meanwhile, Ben, who has just lost his only daughter, seems to clearly grow close to Joe in hopes of gaining sort of a surrogate son out of the tragedy, therefore making it easier to get on with life. Although he seems to be at ease with his grieving, he does find himself journeying back and forth to the restaurant murder scene, frantically asking for employee’s views of the night of the shooting. Since Ben’s office happens to be located across the street from the restaurant, this is somewhat understandable.

Joe’s complicated life becomes ever so more when he meets Bertie (Ellen Pompeo), who seems to be enduring a loss of her own, as well. Her boyfriend, serving in the Vietnam war, has been missing in action for three years. Fearing that he will most likely never return, she sees a chance to start something with Joe, since their needs are quite indeed the same, but the result will not have an easy impact on Ben and Jojo. The relationship between Joe and Bertie is created and written with such sheer satisfactory, because it doesn’t jump into the typical conventional movie romances, but is handled with an ultimate dose of reality, just like everything else in the film.

Another original aspect of the film is the way the subplot of the court proceedings is handled, concerning the man responsible for the girl’s death. Mona Camp (Holly Hunter), who’s representing the family, holds nothing back from the Floss’, telling them that legal process won’t be easy to grasp while dealing with an emotional loss. As you might expect a dramatic courtroom ending, the movie does a complete 180, by delivering a heartfelt revelation in a most unexpected way, and one that in it’s own strange way, makes a great deal of sense.

The performances in Moonlight Mile are of remarkable quality, and time around it should be noted such since this, from my view, is a much difficult acting task. Hoffman and Sarandon both deliver career high-point performances as the grieving Ben and Jojo, but the standout here is in young Jake Gyllenhaal, who here fulfills the promise he showed a few years back in October Sky. He presents Joe as a man with an uncertain future, with emotions running afloat, and several other predicaments to deal with. A scene where Joe lets out his feelings at a dinner table is a purely riveting moment.

To sum it up, Moonlight Mile is the best drama of its kind since Robert Redford’s profoundly moving Ordinary People from 1980. What I truly admire about it is the way the story and the characters stand out from traditional movie caricatures, by coming to life in contradictory atmosphere. The film manages to be very emotionally wrenching, while at the same time adding a dose of humor to go along with the sentimental side. Brad Silberling, who also directed City of Angels, has created a strong piece that really couldn’t be anything but, since the director has experienced much of the same things like the characters in the movie. Of all the films released in 2002, Moonlight Mile scores high as one of the very best. 

Video ***1/2

This is a quite beautiful anamorphic presentation from Disney. The movie is very important in both is visuals and setting. There are many angles and shots in the film that will no doubt engage the eye of anyone who watches it. The sweeping cinematography of Phedon Papamichael is captured wonderfully. Despite a touch or two of slight softness, I’d say this is one of the better transfers I’ve seen all year.

Audio ***1/2

Moonlight Mile is primarily a film driven by dialogue, but thanks to a show-stopping soundtrack of 70s classics, the 5.1 mix is able to give the film a bigger boost than one would expect. First off, dialogue is delivered ever so clearly, without any hint of sound range remaining from the front area. The frequent appearance of songs by the likes of Van Morrison, Sly and the Family Stone, The Rolling Stones, and Elton John provide endless sound highlights, especially in Morrison’s “I’ll Be Your Lover Too”, which is actually one of the lighter songs of the bunch.

Features ***

Nice decision from Disney/Touchstone to apply some worthy extras onto this disc. Included are two commentary tracks, one with Brad Silberling, and the other with Silberling, Jake Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman, which are both very intriguing listens. Also featured are deleted scenes with director’s introduction and optional commentary, and a nice detailed featurette titled “Moonlight Mile: A Journey to Screen”.

Summary:

Moonlight Mile is as rich and absorbing as a cinematic drama can get. Credit should go to an amazing cast of actors, and the strength of writer/director Brad Silberling for bringing a much personal experience to the screen.