Finding conservative themes in independent cinema is like discovering a moment of Zen in a Michael Bay movie.
Yet here comes Still Mine, an indie offering a case for tradition, rugged individualism and the right to fight bureaucracy. And those qualities aren’t even the film’s true strength. Its portrait of an elderly couple fighting illness is a thing of beauty, a meticulously composed duet that puts the majority of screen romances to shame.
James Cromwell stars as Craig, a stubborn farmer who dotes on Irene (Genevieve Bujold), his bride of 61 years. Her memory is slipping, but Craig refuses to do much about it. He finally decides to build a smaller home on their property, a single-level structure that will make caring for her easier.
It’s both a gesture of love and a chance to show himself and others that, at 87, Craig can still be of use. What he doesn’t expect is to battle a battalion of bureaucrats along the way. The local government demands blueprints, permits and other minute details which threatens to shut down Craig’s new home for good.
“When did we become a country of bureaucrats?” he asks in amazement, one of many lines that will leave Tea Party types cheering.
“I still feel like I’m paying for someone else’s mistakes,” he says later, referring to the approval process for creating a home from scratch.
Cromwell, the noble character actor and Occupy Wall Street enthusiast, embodies a generation that accepted blame, dug in deep and made sure the job got done right.
In other words, he’s a relic, but Cromwell gives him an inner strength that doesn’t diminish his crusty demeanor. Bujold is his equal, a proud woman holding on to her marriage and all that it means to both of them. The actress doesn’t resort to cheap theatrics, and when a rush of memory loss engulfs her it consumes not just her face but her whole being.
Together, Cromwell and Bujold capture the beauty of marriage in a way that eschews sentimental niceties.
Writer/director Michael McGowan ladles on the libertarian themes a might thick at times, but his approach is more reasonable–and effective–regarding the bond between Craig and Irene. In lesser hands, using an old table as a metaphor for marriage could be clunky. Here, as Cromwell brushes his aged hand across the wooden surface, it’s sheer poetry.
McGowan shrewdly casts actors who look like real people to give Cromwell and Bujold support, from those playing the couple’s grown-up kids to the locals who are both amused and challenged by Craig’s battle against The Man.
Based on true events, Still Mine may qualify Cromwell for Oscar consideration. It would be fitting for a fine character actor given that rare leading man role. It also deserves the full support of conservatives who bemoan how few films today echo their principles.