Review by Michael Jacobson
Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Jessica Beil, Christine Dunford
Director: Victor Nunez
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1, Standard
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: August 24, 1999
Uleeís Gold is
a masterful film of quiet revelation. Itís
a film that achieves a sense of power not by unbottling its emotions, nor by
restraining them. It finds a kind
of satisfying balance by keeping it at a simmer throughout, so the feelings can
be strong without needing to reach a point of exploding.
Itís about a troubled family, but donít think that the
movie unfolds with all the sitcom or prime time drama clichťs.
Writer/director Victor Nunez shows an uncanny understanding of what
family problems are really like, and he lets his story unfold with honesty
rather than going for the gusto in the usual tired ways.
Jonathan Demmeís name, as producer, may have top billing here, but
Nunezís style is more akin to that of Robert Redford, who is famous for
allowing his characters the time, the space, and the means to explore and
realize their own humanity.
Ulee Jackson (Fonda) lives a quiet life in Florida.
Heís a beekeeper, like his father and grandfather before him.
He leads a somewhat secluded existence, preferring to take care of every
problem himself with no outside help. He
has a keen sense of duty and responsibility.
He lives with his two granddaughters.
Basically, heís a simple man, but a rather complex character.
The film uses the plot line to allow us our insights into
the family, when an unexpected call from his son in prison sends Ulee on a quest
heíd rather not make. Turns out,
his stepdaughter, and the kidsí mother, is an almost hopeless drug addict who
was picked up by a couple of his sonís former associates in crime.
Sheís sick, his son claims. Reluctantly,
and even against the wishes of the elder daughter, Ulee resolves to go get her
and bring her home.
But things become increasingly complicated, as the men who
are keeping her have a secret agenda of their own. Theyíre looking for their share of money from a job they
did with Uleeís son years back. Now
he has to deal with several unstable elements at onceÖthe criminals, the
stepdaughter going through withdrawal that doesnít want help, and the
necessary intrusion of a kind nurse (Richardson) living next door, who offers to
help care for her.
But the film isnít about the plot. The plot really exists to serve the characters and the study
of their relationships to one another. The
movie doesnít give much explanation as to why they are where they are, nor
does it leave a false sense of resolution at the end. Thatís what I loved most about it. It doesnít pretend, as most stories do, that itís easily
diagnosed why decent kids follow wrong paths that lead to self-destruction.
Itís often a lot more complicated than movies would have you believe. Itís not always about blame.
Emotional scars run deep, and often never completely heal underneath.
As such, the film instinctively understands that the healing process
cannot be completed over the course of a movie timeline.
But it can begin.
Not enough praise can be given to Fonda, whose work in this
picture is incredible, and one of the best screen performances of the decade.
He brings amazing life and depth to his character, and does so in
beautifully subtle ways. Most actors playing a role as unassuming as this one would
try too hard to constantly convey that something is brimming under the surface.
Fonda expresses it beautifully without indulging in that kind of excess.
Many times, he reminded me of his father, and that made me smile.
But kudos goes also to Patricia Richardson, who achieves a
remarkable breakout from her well-known television work to prove that she is an
actress of some caliber. Her scenes
with Fonda are perfectly played and honest.
Nothing conventional creeps in to their performances to ruin the spell.
I also enjoy when a film takes me into a world Iíve never
been, and in this case, it was the world of the beekeeper.
It was fascinating how the keeper and the bees have such a symbiotic
relationship. The keeper cares for
and protects the bees, the bees provide the goods for him to sell.
The events of the story take place at the most crucial time of year for
Uleeís profession, when he has to move his bees to a specific floral area to
create a special and rare kind of honey, so he ends up having to deal with his
familyís situation while this window of opportunity is gradually closing.
I couldnít help but notice at the beginning of the movie
how disjointed the credits seemed. Some
names appeared left, some right, some high, some low, and even when there were
lists of names, they were never in line or in unison. I wondered at the time if that meant something.
I also wondered about the symbolism involved in the beesÖfor example,
how they sense fear, and how it makes them panic and attack when they ordinarily
wouldnít. I even wondered about
the fact that the nurse had the last name of Hope.
But looking back afterwards, I realized that this movie is a lot like
life in terms of interpretation of symbols.
Maybe those kinds of things mean something.
Maybe not. But how we choose
to interpret, or not to interpret, canít help but influence our points of
Not counting much older films that have an excuse, this is the poorest transfer Iíve yet seen on DVD. Itís extremely soft, with a consistent lack of detail. I actually checked my TV settings while watching it to make sure the sharpness hadnít been adjusted. The picture is somewhat grainy, with washed out looking color. Some instances are worse than others, but in certain outdoor scenes, trees donít even seem to have real leaves, but rather globs of dull green smeared across the branches. Itís a shame, because Florida is a beautiful locale for outdoor filming. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio also means no anamorphic enhancement. Maybe the ratio was correct, but I would have preferred to have the image matted down a little further in hopes that a 16x9 treatment would have sharpened up the picture a little bit.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround, but given the nature of
the film, is not very dynamic or remarkable, simply serviceable: clear
dialogue, little to no use of independent signals to the surrounds or .1
channel, and only fair dynamics.
Only a trailer.