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Two brothers and the summer a hidden past is revealed
on July 16, 2003
Based on my memory of reviews when this film was first released, I expected a kind of comedy-drama-romance, which it is not. It can best be described as a family melodrama, set on a small farm in Nebraska (actually shot in the rural community of Ft. Calhoun, near Omaha). The elements are somewhat familiar: an older man raising two sons, of somewhat different temperaments, all haunted by the memory of a mother who had aspirations beyond the narrow confines of the farm (she names a horse Jackie, after Jackie Kennedy, because she "liked famous people"). During a summer, as the boys have grown into young men, the truth of their mother's past begins to make itself known, and all are deeply affected.
The story has a leisurely pace as it unfolds, and for a time it seems to be about the growing attraction between womanizer Tully and Ella, a college-educated friend of his younger brother. But this becomes a thread in the larger story of a family's secrets and loyalties surfacing after years of silence and half-truths. For its length, it's a small film, and its strength is not in big effects, sex and nudity, or heavy plotting. Instead there are well-acted scenes between people in muted conflict who struggle with emotions and the difficulty of trusting others with the truth about themselves. This will not be everyone's idea of entertainment, but as indie movies go, I found that it rewarded my patience.
The cinematography captures the deep greens of mid-summer, and scenes are often shot in early morning or late afternoon, so the golden, glancing sunlight lights characters with a rich glow and casts cool shadows. Night scenes are played against a textured fabric of insect sounds. Always the camera captures the isolation and solitude of country living.
Perhaps the only real ring of inaccuracy in the film is the fact that so little of the dawn-to-dusk work of actual farming is reflected in the lives of the characters. These boys have an awful lot of time on their hands; the farm seems to take care of itself. The film is based on a story by writer Tom McNeal, whose novel "Goodnight, Nebraska" has similar characters (a young couple), a rural small town setting, and touches on similar themes. For fans of the film, I recommend McNeal's book.