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The Yearling Reviews

The Turner Network gives a burnished treatment to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's children's classic, with generally successful results. With its somber, richly-hued look, this made-for-cable film is no replacement for the 1946 Gregory Peck version, but it stands up surprisingly well to comparison. Jody Baxter (Wil Horneff) lives in the Florida Everglades with father Ezra (Peter Strauss) and mother Ory (Jean Smart), who are barely eking out a hardscrabble existence on their family farm in the depths of the Depression. Ezra's bete noire is a legendary grizzly bear named Old Slewfoot. One day, when he finally gets the bear in his sights, his gun jams and his hunting dog is nearly killed. With his son, he travels to the nearby Forresters, where he swaps his now worthless hunting dog for a decent rifle; when he returns home, he finds that resentful Fodderwing Forrester (Jarred Blancard) has shot the dog and stolen their sows. While on the way to set this right, he is bitten by a rattlesnake, and Jody must shoot a doe and cut its liver out in order to draw out the poison. When Ezra miraculously survives, he allows Jody to keep the doe's fawn, even though they can't really afford the expense. After surviving a near-hurricane, Ezra finally outsmarts and kills Old Slewfoot. He attempts to make peace with the Forresters by trading Lem half the meat for his help in hauling the carcass. But then Lem gets surly at a Christmas dance and fights with Ezra. When Lem tampers with their wagon several days later out of spite, the runaway wagon runs over Ezra's foot, and Lem's brother Buck (Philip Seymour Hoffman) finally takes him to task for his gross behavior. With Ezra laid up in bed, the family's prospects for food look grim. Just when a providential rain promises to boost the languishing food crops, Jody discovers that his pet fawn has eaten almost all the corn, making their starvation a real possibility. Rather than face that prospect, Ezra informs Jody they must slaughter and eat the pet fawn, and that Jody should be the one to kill it. The boy refuses and disappears into the woods, but then faces his responsibility, and through the difficult choices, learns what it means to be a man. This well-acted remake of a familiar story still manages to pack a sizable emotional wallop. Frequent cutaways to Everglades wildlife, along with the old-fashioned rhythms of the dialogue, persuasively root the story in a time and place long past. The makers' decision to remain relatively true to the source material is welcome, although the resulting narrative will strike some parents as overly grim. (Violence, adult situations.)