EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: S.J. Chiro
Writer: David Guterson, Thane Swigart
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Tom Skerritt, Annie Gonzalez, Victoria Summer Felix, Wally Dalton
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/21/21
Opens: September 24, 2021
You would be hard put to find a better, more succinct summary of the nature of human beings than in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” II,vii. Babyhood is not that terrific, “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” nor is youth, “And then the whining schoolboy with his satchel…creeping like snail unwillingly.” Worst of all is old age, the seventh stage, “second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” The final stage is the canvas onto which S.J. Chiro paints, and for the most part it’s not pretty. And yet, given that old age is being performed by the eighty-eight-year-old Tom Skerritt as Ben Givens, you may come away from the film with the idea that even with cancer, old age has redeeming features.
In the 1999 novel by David Guterson, Ben Givens is by comparison a young man of seventy-three, but given his diagnosis of colon cancer, there is no chance that he can live to the ripe old age portrayed by the Givens in the movie. And if we can go back and steal the best-known line of Shakespeare, Chiro, using a script by Thane Swigart and adapting the novel of David Guterson “to be or not to be” is the choice. The conflict is not man vs. man, or man vs. nature, but man against himself.
Throughout Chiro’s film, you may be haunted by the portrait of Ben’s inner battle. Given is a retired cardiac surgeon in Seattle who a year back had lost his beloved wife and now calculates that without treatment he has one year to live. The death will not be pretty, as he matter-of-factly relates, blisters, pneumonia, suffocation. When he fails to pull the trigger of his rifle at home, he intends to finish the deed outdoors, heading from Seattle to rural Washington state where he meets the kinds of people that big city cats cannot believe.
Oh we can believe Bill Harden (John Paulsen), the only bad guy. His coyote dog mauls Bill’s four-legged hunting companion, and Ben shoots the runaway animal. Bill, the attack dog’s owner, takes no responsibility for the aggression and takes away Ben’s rifle. On the other hand, abandoning his car after it breaks down, Ben meets the nicest folks after accepting a ride to a motel from a passing motorist. He then discovers a veterinarian, Anita (Annie Gonzalez), willing to drive out at night to stitch up the dog and keep the animal for observation.
Maybe he should have listened to his daughter, Renee Givens (Mira Sorvino), who advised Ben to give up thoughts of the road trip, but then we would not have been able fully to enjoy the performance of Tom Skerritt, whose movie résumé stretches back to 1962 but has regularly been featured heretofore mostly in supporting roles. Soft-focus flashbacks to his adolescence in East Washington State finds him a handsome young man, courting young Rachel (Victoria Summer Felix), though we learn little from the meetings, which is fine since we are really interested in his feelings as an old man bereft of his early dreams, expecting to die painfully in one year or more immediately by his own hand.
The mountainous regions of Washington State are photographed in their natural beauty by Sebastien Sandiuzzi; the river, the brush, the evocation of God’s country coupled with a look at the friendliness of a nearby village where, like with “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.
93 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+