I feel badly for the writer and director Brad Silberling. I do. Back in 1989 his girlfriend, an actress, was murdered by a fan. It was of course a terrible blow. But out of that experience he has made a film that is mediocre at best and simply awful the rest of the time. It is the story of a young man whose fiancée is murdered - by accident, almost - when an estranged husband comes into a café to kill his wife and kills the girl instead. Her parents take the young man in and do their best to make him part of their family, but life has a way of squirming through our hands just when we think we've captured it; the new would-be family structure has terminal cracks in it.
Silberling has cast "Moonlight Mile" with some of the finest actors around today: Dustin Hoffman as the dead girl's father Ben Floss; Susan Sarandon as her mother JoJo; and Holly Hunter as the prosecuting attorney who will try the murderer. Jake Gyllenhaal is the young fiancé Joe Nast, and I must confess that although many love him I am not a fan of his constantly pursed bow lips, his childish voice, his doe eyes, nor the endless pauses before he delivers a line of dialogue. But Sarandon, once again, is extraordinary. There is a fire and flash in her character's eyes and a power in her voice; a regret for what might have been a better choice of husband thirty-one years ago but an acknowledgment that it's not so bad today. We should ask ourselves how many films Sarandon has taken into her hands and lifted out of the ordinary. Dozens? Scores? She is a treasure. Hoffman, though, seems to be acting his way through "Midnight Mile" instead of living the admittedly difficult role of the compulsive, insecure and emotionally constipated father and husband.
The film is set in the early 1970s, so that a young woman Joe meets while living with the Flosses is also mourning her own love, a soldier missing for three years in Vietnam. The plot, though, is so thin it almost isn't there. It has to do with a secret Joe and his fiancée had, and were about to reveal when she was killed; and when the film lets us in on it it seems almost absurdly juvenile. We feel angry at the film for withholding it, rather than mournful at what Silberling tries to pass off as irony. Silberling has a track record as a television director; I believe "Moonlight Mile" has a future on the Lifetime channel.