OLD MAN exhibits weather-beaten grit and heartland pride in its enriching fable of a convict's voyage from incarceration to inner freedom. Despite a certain languor around the edges, this TV-movie adaptation of a William Faulkner story (which comprised half of the novel The Wild Palms) is
well acted and sensitively crafted.
When the Mississippi Rver overflows its banks in the 1920s, the devastation is so great that some prisoners are granted short-term leave to help rescue efforts. Among them is J.J. Taylor (Arliss Howard), near the end of a 19-year sentence for train robbery. Taylor is assigned to sail a skiff to
rescue Addie Rebecca Brice (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a pregnant woman clinging to a tree down river. He and his partner, another prisoner who doesn't intend to return to prison, are washed overboard. But Taylor miraculously survives and continues on his mission.
Never contemplating abandoning his responsibility, Taylor rescues Addie, who soon gives birth. Denied help by a runaway con and his wife and shot at by guards who have been ordered to shoot straggling prisoners on sight, Taylor steers Addie and her newborn across the Mississippi. Taylor's partner
is captured and tells prison authorities he believes Taylor to have died. Still adrift, after temporary respite on a riverboat, Addie encourages Taylor to forget his duty. They enjoy a spate of domestic peace as the bonding couple finds refuge with a Cajun alligator hunter (Daro Latiolais). But
plans to dynamite the river force the couple back into a floating odyssey. When Taylor finally returns, as promised, with Addie, the warden (Jerry Leggio) is amazed. He receives no clemency for his remaining sentence, but his bleak life is brightened by Addie's promise to wait for him.
Regionalism is often a dead-end in Hollywood. Somehow, too much polished professionalism seeps into film portraits of life's "little people." That is not the case in this film, a well-balanced period reconstruction that avoids the overly polished professionalism that so often mars dramas about
common folk. Not only are the physical production details about the aftermath of the devastation persuasive, so, too, is the depiction of chain-gang despair. This evocative presentation would mean little if it weren't backed up by writing and acting with an authentic twang. Stripped of makeup and
ego, both Howard and Tripplehorn give pared-down performances that tear at the heartstrings. Even the Aaron Copeland-esque musical score conveys the simple rural solitude behind these characters' stoic attitudes. Each perilous adventure on the river temporarily isolates the characters from the
harsh world they left behind; we can watch their relationship build as the awesome river frees them long enough to find a state of grace. This beautiful love story is immeasurably aided by the dialogue genius of Horton Foote. Unmatched as an interpreter of other writers' words (e.g., 1962's TO
KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), Foote breathes life into Faulkner's examination of honor and how one kind act can change the life of a luckless man forever. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: PG
- Review: OLD MAN exhibits weather-beaten grit and heartland pride in its enriching fable of a convict's voyage from incarceration to inner freedom. Despite a certain languor around the edges, this TV-movie adaptation of a William Faulkner story (which comprised hal… (more)