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A Wim Wenders Winner,
This review is from: Land of Plenty (DVD)
There's a lot to be said for a film that makes profound statements about the 9/11 attacks and its effects on Vietnam vets. Most of us were probably too shocked inside our own little bubble to realize the impact these men felt when exploding planes collapsed the twin towers. But director Wim Wenders (DON'T COME KNOCKING) pulls it off thanks to a fairly good script and even better acting by lead actors John Diehl and Michelle Williams.
Never having seen Diehl in a leading role, this movie shows he's got some serious chops and can act with the best Hollywood has to offer. Equally Michelle Williams pulls off a stunningly excellent performance as the worldly but loving niece who helps Diehl discover himself all over again.
The story ...
Paul (John Diehl) is a Vietnam vet living in Los Angeles. He lives in a fantasy world all his own, believing that he's helping with national security by tracking suspicious looking people with his surveillance tricked-out van. He operates a camera that comes out of the van's sunroof and records activity around town.
Michelle (Michelle Williams, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) is returning from Tel Aviv after years away from the States. Her mother passed away and she's trying to hook up with her last surviving relative in America: Paul. Working at a mission for the poor, she befriends many of its patrons and meets up with a withdrawn Arab-looking gentleman named Hassan (Shaun Taub, CRASH) who also happens to be one of Paul's prime suspects.
Paul witnesses Hassan hauling boxes of borax and quickly learns that it is an ingredient for certain bomb materials. On high alert, Paul records everything Hassan does. This brings him closer to his niece, Michelle. But Hassan lives on the street and is eventually shot to death right in front of Paul, making him believe that someone knocked him off for sinister reasons.
Michelle is beset with grief about Hassan's death and searches for one of his family members. Eventually finding one near Death Valley, she convinces Paul to drive her and the body to Hassan's brother for burial. Paul agrees in the hopes of gaining more information about who Hassan was and what he was up to.
As the nexus between Paul's old Vietnam life and the new one that awaits him with Michelle begins to culminate, we see him battling bad dreams of his time in Southeast Asia but being aided and comforted by Michelle and, to his surprise, by Hassan's death and Hassan's brother.
We quickly learn that Paul went down a bad trail after the 9/11 attacks, his mind sparking up old memories in order to protect itself. He lives in his van, which is his life-connection to the world now. But that will change once Michelle teaches him how to trust again.
The film is touching if sometimes a bit heavy-handed in the dialogue department. We're sometimes forcibly given rather trite information about the homeless and war, but this is easily overlooked thanks to the able acting of its two main characters.