Rails & Ties – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Upon a brief glimpse, Alison Eastwood’s directorial debut, Rails & Ties, seems as though it might have been adapted from a country song. Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon) is a stoic train engineer whose wife (Marcia Gay Harden) is fighting a losing battle with cancer. In an effort to kill both herself and her son, a depressed woman parks her car on Stark’s tracks. The boy survives, and ends up living with the childless Starks. Naturally, this leads to the kid watching two mothers die in a fairly short span of time.

(Trains and country songs just go together, like bacon and eggs or apple pie and America or sex with latex.)

Rails and Ties is a nice, small, character-based movie. Like many of the other works starring Marcia Gay Harden, it is designed to make you cry, and has a good chance of being successful at that thing.

(I love Marcia Gay Harden, but I think she must feed on human tears.)

The film plays a bit like Last House on the Left in reverse. Last House tells the story of parents who accidentally take in the killers of their daughter. That film was based on Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan, which in turn was based on an old folk tale. The set-up, in Rails, is less contrived but maintains a certain “folk-taleness” about it.

It’s a surprisingly strong film coming from first-time director Eastwood. Previously her main claims to fame were:
A. Being the daughter of a grizzled action star/ master director/ producer / composer/ Gorillaz tune. (I’ll let you guys figure out about whom I’m writing.)
B. Getting caught drinking and driving before the age of 20.
C. Posing for some nekkid pictures in Playboy.

The performances of the leads are all believable. There is a warmth and humanity to the piece. The movie is shot, staged and framed well. My biggest complaint is a technical one. For some reason (I suspect cheap digital cameras), the film seems to have a low frame rate. It is initially jarring, and evocative of watching a movie on Hulu as opposed to a proper television.

The film co-stars Miles Heizer (E.R. Episode count: 4) as the orphan. Two and a Half Men‘s Marin Hikle (E.R. episode count: 1) portrays the sympathetic social worker. Eugene Byrd (E.R. episode count: 1) plays Stark’s co-engineer haunted by the incident. Bonnie Root (E.R. episode count: 1) portrays the suicidal mom. Laura Cerón (E.R. episode count: 211) plays the family friend/nurse. Veteran character actress Kathryn Joosten (E.R. episode count: 1) plays the nosy neighbor. Jim Cody Williams (E.R. episode count: 1) and Steven M. Porter (E.R. episode count: 1) round out the cast as a couple of trainmen.

The movie looks to have been shot on the cheap. As noted before the frame rate seems low. The audio is a tad up and down at times.

There are eight minutes of wisely Deleted Scenes.

So, what have we learned?
– Clint’s daughter has shown a lot of potential as a film-maker. She should make more movies, as we could use some more female directors.
– Marcia Gay Harden wants to make you sob.
– Nearly every actor on Earth has been on E.R.


Warner Bros. Pictures presents Rails & Ties. Directed by Alison Eastwood. Starring Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden. Written by Micky Levy. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: June 17, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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