After making the misbegotten Canfilm abomination that was Score: A Hockey Musical, writer-director Michael McGowan wisely steps onto a more firm dramatic foundation. This is a fact-based story about a New Brunswick stoic named Craig Morrison who, at the age of 87, dared to build a home for himself and his ailing wife.
Lanky American actor James Cromwell, still indelible as the charming but deadly police captain in L.A. Confidential, portrays Morrison in unapologetic Yankee style, sans Maritimer accent, as a rugged individualist who knows what's what.
And what Morrison knows is that he needs a new house. His beloved wife Irene (Genevi®ve Bujold) is apparently in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She is finding it increasingly difficult navigating the old homestead's narrow stairs and crowded rooms.
He opts to build a new single-storey house with a view of the Bay of Fundy. After all, he has his own sawmill. He knows wood. He learned building at the hands of his own father, a shipbuilder.
He is also a man who visibly enjoys work. In his contemplative moments, Morrison runs his hands over wood surfaces with the exploring fingers -- the sensuous carpenter.
But expertise doesn't carry much water with bureaucrats. And here, McGowan gives himself the gift of making bureaucracy the villain of the piece.
Though he is building a house on his own huge property, Morrison is obliged to pay fees and is told he must run his plans by the local building council, here embodied by a whey-faced, pencil-neck geek named Rick, played by Jonathan Potts.
Bureaucracy doesn't see context -- in this case Morrison's urgent need to accommodate his wife's infirmity. Bureaucracy sees a set of standards that must be met, but lacks the savvy to discern if those standards are being exceeded. Rick nails a stop work order on the house. Morrison keeps building anyway.
In his corner, Morrison counts his quietly supportive son (Rick Roberts) and his lawyer (Campbell Scott). His daughter (Julie Stewart) is on the fence about her dad's course of action, and Morrison's irascible friend Chester (George R. Robertson) seems intent on punishing Morrison for a good deed he committed decades earlier.
McGowan, who also made the cancer drama One Week, is, as usual, afflicted with a tin ear for dialogue. Even a climactic courtroom scene in which Morrison states his case to a judge lands with a clunk.
But it's an affliction the cast rises above, Cromwell with his regal presence and Canadian treasure Bujold with a combination of warmth and ferocity. In particular, Cromwell doesn't have to say anything to communicate the character's moments of anguish, impatience or his abiding affection for Irene.
One is reminded that Cromwell previously starred as Jean Dujardin's faithful valet in The Artist, a multi-Oscar winner that required no spoken dialogue whatsoever.
At least McGowan doesn't have anybody tunelessly singing their lines, a la Score, but one wonders if this well-intended, competently crafted film might not have been better as a silent movie.
Selected excerpts of reviews of Still Mine.
It's a sweet embrace, but there's something missing in McGowan's mix, and it's a sense of emotional immersion. Even though the performances are rock solid, we're denied a sense of transformation from the core characters, which makes the undeniable one-way street of life feel like a dead end.
-- Katherine Monk, Canada.com
Possessed of an equally long face and body, Cromwell provides ample compositional opportunities that McGowan takes full advantage of, making Morrison's imposing physical presence an eloquent articulation of the theme of weathered and leathery resistance.
-- Geoff Pevere, The Globe and Mail
It will likely make you think of Michael Haneke's Amour, the recent Palme d'Or and Oscar winner starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. The two films beat as one heart in their expression of late-life devotion, but Still Mine has a luminosity all its own.
-- Peter Howell, Toronto Star