Comfortable and Furious

Rails and Ties (2007)

Bloody hell, yet another movie about cancer and pain and redemption? I’d have stormed the fuck out, but co-star Marcia Gay Harden was blocking the stairs with her fat, Oscar-winning ass, so I angrily remained seated. That bitch owes me, as instead of breathing in some much-needed mountain air, I was forced to endure a predictable, unholy mess about a childless couple, bone cancer, and yes, even a shaggy-haired kid who just happens to come at the right time and change their lives forever.

All this from Clint Eastwood’s daughter, making her directorial debut? How many verbal threats did Clint lodge with Warner Brothers in order for this sewage to see the light of day? I like Harden, and hell, even Kevin Bacon from time to time, but were they so desperate for paychecks that they didn’t give this screenplay a second reading? Bacon is Tom Stark, a train engineer who is — big surprise — depressed and remote, and Harden is Megan, his dying, weepy wife. One day, while working the rails, Tom’s train hits the car of a suicidal woman and her young son.

The kid manages to escape, but the junkie whore mother is killed, a “twist of fate” that leads to the inevitable inquest and, most unrealistically, the boy’s journey to the Stark family’s front door. The kid is pissed at Tom for killing his mother, but within seconds, he is soothed by Harden’s instinctual nurturing. Sure, it breaks all the rules and will likely lead to firings, investigations, and possibly a few more wrecked lives, but hell, why not let the boy stay for a spell? This story wasn’t going anywhere anyway, so let’s allow a little turn at the end of the first act. Right?

Christ, if you need to know that the kid warms to both Tom and Megan, and that Tom himself comes to love the kid, or that Megan takes a turn for the worse and dies having been afflicted with the one cancer that fails to take off any weight, then by all means see the damn thing. The film itself is directed with a cautious boredom, almost as if poor Alison thought any sudden moves would break the camera lens or something. She does rely heavily on fade-ins and outs which, given their frequency, actually add ten or so minutes to the already oppressive running time, but who am I to quibble? According to festival gossip, this stain on the moviemaking craft actually provoked a standing ovation at the sacred Sheridan Opera House, a fitting locale given the obscenely heavy-handed melodrama on display. Did they hear “Eastwood” and assume the old man was the director?

Or did they believe that whenever cancer makes a cinematic entrance, attention must be paid, regardless of how it is framed? If everyone took their life cues from the movies, they’d believe that whenever the “Big C” invades the body, people do nothing but re-evaluate, tend to old wounds, reconcile, and take in orphaned children. In reality, the disease is nothing more than pain, costly hospitalization, drugs, and a little more pain for good measure. I’ll go so far as to say that while wasting away in bed, there isn’t a single human being who has ever brought around their nearest and dearest to do anything but stare at utter misery and perhaps watch a convulsion or two. Or maybe we’ll get lucky like Megan and go through what amounts to little more than a headache.