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Moonlight Mile (Brad Silberling) 2002


    After a left-field dream sequence, Moonlight Mile, Brad Silberling’s facile new film about loss and grieving, opens surprisingly with a glib little sequence as its three leads - Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Susan Sarandon - prepare for a funeral. The abnormally well-adjusted characters seem less distraught than usual, considering most other films that would show such a scene would focus on the understandable histrionics before the event. Admittedly, three days have passed since the tragedy (she was murdered), but you would be hard pressed to deny that it was three years. The admirable attempt of the film, which feels alternately intensely personal and crassly populist and manipulative, is to show us the scenes that we usually don’t see in films about mourning. To discover the ugly details that lie behind the idealizations of a departed one, the film argues, is to step closer to the truth. As a result, we don’t ever really get to know the girl who was lost (she shows up only as an idealization in a dream sequence or two), we don’t get to see any outbursts of emotion for a good portion of the running time, and we end up bored to death as we’re faced with the reasons why we don’t watch films about the things we don’t see in other films: they’re boring. If scenes showing projectile dog vomit and real estate transactions are honestly more interesting than the subject at hand, I can’t see why. If guilt manifests itself even in the mundane, does the approach to demonstrate that thought need to be mundane too?


    Since Silberling withholds as much information as he does in Moonlight Mile, he doesn’t come any closer to the truth than if he had set hankies in motion with the most melodramatic scenario possible. The film becomes a manipulation of a different, more insidious sort, offering only vaguely appropriate pop songs where we should see true connection with its characters. It carries its head highly, as if it’s offering us some greater, more realistic portrait of its characters, and in doing so provoked a sharp negative reaction in this viewer, since such a stance seems smug, especially when recent films like In the Bedroom didn’t need to resort to such cheap tactics to achieve their affect. The moment we realize that we’re not going to see a big breakdown, the film sets itself up as a countdown until one happens. When it finally comes, it conveniently sets in motion a chain of revelations that destroy any obstacle that might keep new romance from blooming. If we had some early, normal catharsis early on (even an outraged one), the film wouldn’t have had to work so hard to achieve any honesty, since it would already have been in the bag. Many (probably those who don’t realize that the family’s name rhymes with “loss”) will be taken in by Silberling’s approach here - Silberling’s somber approach certainly worked for me in his similarly elegiac City of Angels - but this time out I felt the gears churning underneath, and no amount of A-list actors, comforting yellow lighting schemes, or studied distance from its characters could make the film work for me. Aside from a few scattered effective grace notes, Moonlight misses by a mile.


* 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman