Movie Review: Rails & Ties
By Michael Phillips, Tribune Movie Critic
Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden work subtly and honorably to make something of "Rails & Ties," the debut directorial feature from Alison Eastwood (Clint's daughter, and the sister of Kyle Eastwood, who co-wrote the score). The actors know how to portray characters in quiet, aching crisis without semaphoring everything to death. Meanwhile the screenplay is all semaphores and telegraphed narrative switchbacks. The technique behind the camera may be plain, even drab, but the machinations of the story grind like ungreased gears.
Bacon plays Tom Stark, a train engineer whose terminally ill wife, Megan (Harden), longs for a reconnection with her husband before she leaves this life. One fateful day, Tom spies a suicidal woman whose car is parked on the tracks. Making a by-the-book judgment call, he does not hit the emergency brakes, for fear of a derailment. The woman is killed; her son, miraculously, is spared.
The rest of "Rails & Ties" is baldly engineered to bring this angry, hurting, motherless 11-year-old boy (Davey, played by Miles Heizer) into the orbit of the man he believes responsible for his mother's death. The Starks and young Davey become unlikely acquaintances, then friends, then a temporary family unit. It is not a believable progression - and nevermind the emotional scars the kid will be dealing with after Megan's death. The film is all about the healing, and the love.
Tense and withdrawn, Bacon holds up his end of the bargain in the way he mutters his asides and evades the messy emotional confrontations so dear to the heart of screenwriter Micky Levy. (This is her first produced full-length script.). Harden can make a meal from a simple line such as: "I thought I had all this (BEGIN ITALICS) time." (END ITALICS) The frustration, desolation and frayed nerve endings in both characters come out in tangible detail. But all the astute acting in the world can't bring such a preposterous story into the station on time and intact.
"Rails & Ties"
Directed by Alison Eastwood; screenplay by Micky Levy; photographed by Tom Stern; edited by Gary D. Roach; music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens; production design by James J. Murakami; produced by Robert Lorenz, Peer Oppenheimer and Barrett Stuart. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday at Highland Park at Landmark's Renaissance Place Cinema. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: PG-13 (mature thematic elements, an accident scene, brief nudity and momentary strong language).
Tom Stark - Kevin Bacon
Megan Stark - Marcia Gay Harden
Davey Danner - Miles Heizer