October, 2005, Drama

Directed by:Tim Kirkman

Starring:Kip Pardue, Michael Kelly, Tess Harper, and Adrian Lee

Writer/director Tim Kirkman has created a small but quietly satisfying examination of the price paid by those who allow their moral judgments of others to corrode the relationships that mean the most to them. Working from the facts in an actual North Carolina case at the most recent turn of the century, Kirkman employs the structure of a thriller to unfold this tale of a young male drifter, his agonized birth mother and the adoptive parents from whom he's estranged. If the screenplay doesn't cover especially new ground nor provide characters as fully developed as they might be, it nevertheless cogently examines the price we pay for our intolerance of others in a restrained but powerfully-argued way. Anyone who says the discussion of serious moral issues can't be found in contemporary movies should see this impressive refutation.

Comedienne Bonnie Hunt (Cheaper By The Dozen) makes her dramatic debut here as Grace, a distraught single mother haunted by the baby her family forced her to put up for adoption in the late 1970's. She hires a private detective, (played by Robin Weigert, the uproariously foul-mouthed Calamity Jane in HBO’s series Deadwood) who locates the couple that adopted Grace's son, gave him the name Mark and raised him as their own. They turn out to be Robert, a minister, (Chris Sarandon) and his dutiful wife Elizabeth, (Tess Harper) whose rigid views of right and wrong caused Mark to cut off all contact with them. The reasons behind his decision emerge gradually over the period of the detective's search as Mark haltingly shares his motivations with someone whose affection for him makes it possible for a partial healing of the rifts that have infected the lives of this improbably connected group of decent people. Earlier this fall, the lavishly praised movie A History of Violence raised the question of whether the use of excessive physical force could infect those it touched like a virus; Loggerheads asks the same question with regard to personal intolerance. The results speak for themselves. 

Ms. Hunt is effective if not overly convincing as a mother unable to fulfill that role and Mr. Sarandon provides a chilling demonstration of parental affection so constipated by personal morality that he's incapable of understanding the implications of the messages he puts forth in his own sermons. But it's Ms. Harper, looking as stolid and plain as an unvarnished bar stool, who most agonizingly conveys the extent of the damage she and her spouse have done to themselves and their long-lost son. Conventionally espousing all the qualities seemingly required of a preacher's wife, she's burdened by a personal life so choked off from her real feelings that she's physically turned to sludge. By the film's end, she's made the first halting steps toward self-recognition, but it’s growth painfully bought at a terrible price. 

Kirkman trusts his cast; he paces the story's action so that it's in synch with the unhurried cadence of small town life and the meandering patterns of southern speech. This approach compliments the director's cinematography, which largely consists of simple camera set ups and shot-pacing occasionally interrupted by long takes of North Carolina's verdant country-sides juxtaposed with interior shots of shaded homes so languidly composed they suggest Vermeer.

It's quite likely that this modestly composed, unassuming film won't get the distribution it rightly deserves--it's certainly far removed from the bloated, pyrotechnic escapism to be found in most theaters today. But this would make perfect viewing on DVD, so look for it in the next couple of months. You won't be disappointed.



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