Posts Tagged ‘Tom Skerritt’

Tom Skerritt

“EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS” My rating: B (Video on Demand)

93 minutes | No MPAA rating

Tom Skerritt has for decades been one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, yet with the exception of his stint on TV’s “Picket Fences” (1992-’96) he’s largely been denied leading roles.

Now 88, the silver-haired Skerritt shows what we’ve been missing with “East of the Mountains,” a not-quite drama that cannily employs the actor’s low-keyed approach to tell a story that in other hands might overstate its case.

Adapted by Thane Swigart from the best-selling novel by David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars), S.J. Chiro’s film finds retired Seattle heart surgeon Ben Givens (Skerritt) preparing for a trip. He informs his daughter Renee (Mira Sorvino) that with his dog Rex he’s going to drive east, across the mountains, to the tiny Washington burg where he grew up.

Renee isn’t too hot about the idea. Ben seems mentally and physically solid enough, but he is an octogenarian, after all. Doesn’t he want some human company? And why doesn’t he sell his house (his wife died a year earlier) and move in with Renee, her husband and children?

Ben curtly — almost cruelly — nixes that talk. Back home he gets out and assembles his old shotgun in preparation for some hunting. Except that he seems also to be measuring the gun’s barrel length against his own reach…what’s that about?

The film finds Ben going through a series of small adventures. When his car breaks down on a lonely stretch of highway he abandons the vehicle without a second thought. He hitches a ride into the mountains, goes hiking with only a canteen and the clothes on his back, shoots some grouse, and goes to sleep snuggled up with Rex (a soulful-eyed Brittany Spaniel).

An encounter with a boorish coyote hunter (John Paulsen) leaves Rex seriously injured. The old man carries his pet several miles through rough terrain to a kindly veterinarian named Anita (Annie Gonzalez) who saves the dog and provides Ben with a meal and shelter.

There’s also an encounter with Ben’s long-estranged brother, Aidan (Wally Dalton), where old animosities are aired.

Periodically Ben’s mind slips back to his youthful courting of his wife and his boyhood, set in an idyllic physical setting but marred by an overbearing father. These are presented without dialogue in a sort of dream fugue.

And, yes, we finally learn that Ben has received a devastating medical diagnosis and that, being a physician, he knows exactly the ugly fate awaiting him.

With the exception of Paulsen’s redneck thug (he doesn’t wear a Trump hat, but that’s only because the novel was published in pre-smart phone 1999), the characters are presented with a disarming matter-of-factness. There are few big speeches; mostly Chiro and Swigart give us bits of casual conversation that slowly build to a suggestion of who Ben is and what he’s about.

And yet the film also acknowledges our inability to fully know or understand another person…especially one as emotional bottled up as Ben.

Some will find this a drawback. Personally, I could use more films that aren’t compelled to spell everything out.

And when you’ve got a leading man like Skerritt, what isn’t said can be more important than pages of dialogue.

| Robert W. Butler

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Harry Dean Stanton

“LUCKY” My rating: B+ 

88 minutes | No MPAA rating

Late in the sublime “Lucky” our title character, an ancient desert-dwelling reprobate played by Harry Dean Stanton, informs the customers of his favorite watering hole that, in his opinion, all we have waiting for us is nothingness.

“What do we do with that piece of news?” someone asks.

Exactly. What do you do, how do you live your life, knowing  your time on Earth is limited and that there are no guarantees of a hereafter?

If that sounds heavy…well, it is and it isn’t.

“Lucky” is a deadpan comedy about small town eccentricity that morphs into a meditation on mortality.  It’s a classic case of laugh-sob-laugh storytelling.

The screenplay by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja is so solid that it would be a terrific vehicle for any mature actor. That the role of Lucky went to Harry Dean Stanton, who died in September at the age of 91, is one of those made-in-heaven movie miracles.

The script plays perfectly to Stanton’s physicality (sunken eyes, hopeless hair, wraith-like figure) and his tough-crusty demeanor.  How lovely… in an acting career that goes back a half century with films like “Alien,” “Repo Man” and “Paris, Texas,” Stanton’s last big role features what may be his greatest performance.

Add to this the wondrous directing debut of John Carroll Lynch, a much-in-demand character actor (he played Frances McDormand’s stamp-designing husband in “Fargo”), and you have a low-keyed, rib-tickling, heart-tugging wonder.

Lucky — who never married — lives alone on the outskirts of a small town (the setting looks like New Mexico or Arizona). He is a creature of habit.

That means getting up and doing yoga exercises in his underwear, pausing to take a few long drag on a cigarette.  Lucky’s closet contains  blue jeans and identical well-worn red plaid shirts. His diet appears limited to milk, caffeine and Bloody Marys (though he never eats the celery).

He’s got no car, so he walks into town, making the rounds of the diner, Post Office and shops before settling onto his stool at a bar where everybody knows everybody else’s name. He makes a point of baiting the chatty owner (the great Beth Grant), her pretty-boy squeeze (James Darren) and the philosophical bartender (Hugo Armstrong).


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