James Cromwell stands sturdy and tall, seasoned by the years, not unlike the spruce trees on the 2,000 acres that his character, Craig Morrison, presides over in the heart-stirring Still Mine. The veteran actor - Farmer Hoggett in Babe, the towering police captain of L.A. Confidential - looks at home driving an old red pickup around the Fundy Bay coast of New Brunswick, milling lumber, bringing strawberries to market. He could have lived here his entire life.
And Still Mine, written and directed with clarity and concision by Michael McGowan, based on the story of the real Craig Morrison, is about living in a place and feeling that connection to the land, to life. It is about a husband and wife, partners through six decades, grappling with issues of aging, and how to spend what time together remains with grace and dignity.
Still Mine is also about fighting the system: Craig, stubborn and proud, is building a better-suited house for him and Irene (beautifully played by Geneviève Bujold) to live in. Trained in carpentry by his shipbuilding dad, Craig starts the construction, lays a foundation, joisting and planing, hammering away. He keeps the plans for the new house in his head - it's going to be simple, with windows looking out across the hills, the woods. But when the local planning commission finds out about the construction, a bureaucratic battle ensues.
There are regulations, permits, blueprints, fees. If Craig doesn't follow the requirements, he is in violation of the law. He could go to jail. His house could be leveled. It doesn't matter that Craig knows what he's doing, that he's a craftsman, that it is his land. Rules are rules.
And while Craig stubbornly ignores the citations, defying the stop-work orders and the entreaties of his grown-up children, Irene is starting to forget things, to show signs of frailty, to wander off. The close bond of this man and woman - captured in sweet, funny, intimate exchanges - is in danger of fraying, falling apart. Bujold's portrayal of a woman losing her memory, and her sense of place in the world, is deeply affecting. Look into her eyes: You can see her soul, quavering.
And the pain, the frustration, the mounting anger Craig experiences - he is a man of fierce independence and pride - are palpable. Cromwell is wonderful.
So, too, is the movie. If it lacks the psychological depth of last year's Oscar winner Amour, or the complexity of Sarah Polley's similarly themed Away From Her, it doesn't matter. Still Mine resonates in all the right ways.
Still Mine ***1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Michael McGowan. With James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold, and Campbell Scott. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse