Director: Camelia Frieberg
Starring: Kristen Holden-Ried
One thing this movie gets right: when the police show up in search of the protagonist, who is in turn vague about the circumstances of their interest when question by his nephew, the nephew goes to his room, Googles his uncle’s name and finds out exactly what’s going on. I think I may have inadvertently clapped when that happened and, if I did, it would have been the first and last time during this ill-conceived exercise in cinematical regurgitation.
The plot is a veritable Frankenstein’s monster of a story, sewing together bits and pieces of You Can Count On Me, Erin Brockovich, and The Shipping News to little purpose. Jack (Kristen Holden-Ried), the wayward brother, shows up one day at his sister’s door and is less than forthcoming about his reasons for coming to town. His nephew (Aaron Webster), who idolizes him, believes that he’s come to town to do an exposé on the local mill, which may or may not be causing health problems for local residents.
The story branches off into several potential plots and subplots, none of which ever really takes off to become something substantial. Jack and his sister argue about their dysfunctional childhood, Jack takes up with his sister’s best friend (Lisa Ray), and the nephew – inspired by Jack – tries to take matters into his own hands and take down the plant on his own. But none of this really means anything – the film plants the seeds for several plots, but doesn’t really let any of them grow. There just isn’t a coherent idea here about what kind of movie this should be.
It would be helpful, at least, if the protagonist was someone you could root for – that’s kind of an essential element of an “activist movie.” Instead we have Jack, a photojournalist and environmental activist whose argument seems to rest solely on the assertion that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. He rails against the residents of the town, calling them short-sighted and “self interested,” for turning a blind eye to the problems stemming from the mill because it’s the town’s primary source of employment. Two problems: Firstly, Jack, as we later learn, is on the run after having set fire to some trailers at a mining site (his justification once again comes down to “I’m right, everyone else is wrong”). When he shows up at his sister’s door and when he later gets his nephew to lie to the police for him, he makes them his accomplices. If these aren’t acts of self-interest, I don’t know what is. Secondly, and I may be biased because I grew up in a small town where the local mill provided a great deal of employment, but I don’t think it’s wrong to not want to shut down the business that’s essentially keeping the town alive. There’s a long field between shutting it down completely and regulating it for the sake of the environment and the health of the workers and residents.
In the end, Jack sees the error of his ways and does the “noble” thing by turning himself in and it’s all very anti-climatic because the narrative just doesn’t build to it. The story is so scattered, the characters so flat and lifeless as they go through the motions, re-enacting scenes from other movies, that you really feel nothing for them either way.