Written in the wake of 9/11, first-time writer and director Michael C. Phelan's ambitious but trite first film weaves together three schematic stories of loss and rebirth. NYPD Lt. Walter Hartwig Jr. (Sean Patrick Flanery) holds himself responsible for the destruction of his entire family: His little sister drowned when they were children at the beach; his...read more
Written in the wake of 9/11, first-time writer and director Michael C. Phelan's ambitious but trite first film weaves together three schematic stories of loss and rebirth. NYPD Lt. Walter Hartwig Jr. (Sean Patrick Flanery) holds himself responsible for the destruction of his entire family: His little sister drowned when they were children at the beach; his mother died brokenhearted (perhaps a suicide) and his lifeguard father (Ron McLarty) descended into madness. Walter, who's haunted by thoughts of killing himself by swimming out to sea, joined the police department's Harbor Unit in hopes of one day saving someone, but all he does is fish corpses out of the water. One exerts a peculiarly compelling hold over him; after a plane crash, he comes across the serenely floating body of musician Sabrina Hampton (Melina Kanakaredes) and is so spellbound that his partner (Pablo Schreiber, half brother of actor/director Liev) must pull him from the water before he drowns. Walter is suspended pending a departmental inquiry. Meanwhile, Sabrina's twin, music-teacher Caterina retreats into her apartment; having lived through her sister's successes, she can't face life alone, her kindly doorman's (Herb Lovelle) efforts to lure her back into the land of the living. Though drawn to Caterina, Walter gets off on the wrong foot with her and instead focuses on neighbor June Sickles (JoBeth Williams), whom he first meets when he sees her collapse on the street while walking her dogs. June is raising her precocious granddaughter, Quinn (Lydia Jordan), whose firefighter father died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Competent and resilient, June is nonetheless under enormous strain; Walter becomes her anchor, even as he grows increasingly uncomfortable with playing substitute son to June and substitute father to Quinn. To say that Phelan, who survived several years as an assistant to notoriously volatile producer Joel Silver, overreaches himself isn't inherently a criticism. He tackles big themes and deep emotions that would intimidate many a more experienced filmmaker. But a more experienced filmmaker would probably have had technical resources to help them sidestep storytelling clichés (note to fledgling directors: Nonlinear narratives are irritating unless there's a reason for them to be shattered) and stock supporting characters, from the kindly old black man to the wise child who asks symbolically freighted questions like, "Are you my butterfly?" The result is 93 very long minutes' worth of admirably committed actors putting themselves through the emotional wringer to very little end.
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