Rails and Ties
Directed By: Alison Eastwood
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, Marin Hinkle, Miles Heizer
Rails and Ties tells a story of redemption stemming from tragedy focusing on married couple Tom (Bacon) and Megan (Harden) Stark. Tom is a train engineer who has devoted his life to his fading profession. Tom buries himself in his work even more so than usual when Megan receives a negative prognosis from her oncologist after two previous rounds of aggressive cancer treatment. Even when he is home, he remains distant, frequently retiring to his garage to work on his model train set. Tom's routine is shaken one day when a suicidal woman with her child in tow drives her car over the tracks in the path of his train. Tom makes the call not to stop the train because it would likely result in a derailment. The child, Davey (Heizer), escapes, but is unable to pull his drug addled mother from the car. In the wake of the accident, Davey is put into foster care and Tom is suspended from work pending an investigation. Unhappy with his foster home and angry at the train operator who killed his mother, Davey runs away, and figures out Tom's identity. He approaches him at home, violently angry, but after Tom and Megan calm him down, they begin to bond. The childless couple ultimately allows Davey to move in with them despite the risk to Tom's job and the lack of legal standing as foster parents. This tenuous arrangement brings Tom and Megan together emotionally and provides Davey with an opportunity to heal, even though they all know it cannot last.
Everything about this film is restrained except for the use of metaphor which is poured on a bit thick, starting, of course, with the title. The cast gives low key performances which is the only sensible choice given the melodramatic circumstances that are being dramatized. Things still tilt a bit towards sentimentality, but in addition to the restrained performances, the naturalistic cinematographic and design style employed by Eastwood and her collaborators helps to keep things grounded.
In her directorial debut, Eastwood demonstrates a solid visual sense and a decent facility for working with actors. Seasoned veterans Bacon and Harden hold their own as expected, but the film largely hinges on the performance of juvenile actor Miles Heizer, who manages to convey his character's grief and rage, inclusive of a number of crying scenes, without ever veering into annoying child actor territory.
The film offers few surprises and occasionally overstates its case via repetition, which prevents it from being particularly memorable, but it does manage to create a mildly uplifting story out of a pretty bleak situation.
In terms of cinematographic style, the apple does not fall too far from the tree as Alison Eastwood and her cinematographer Tom Stern, a frequent collaborator with her father, Clint, go for a look that is more about texture than detail. Other than a few daytime exteriors, lighting is generally arranged to provide a natural and somewhat soft look with noticeable film grain and a production design emphasizing earth tones. The 16:9 enhanced DVD presentation faithfully reproduces this look, although at times it appears that the compression is either smearing the grain a bit or the image is being filtered to allow for easier encoding. Not having seen a theatrical presentation of the film, it is hard for me to determine which the case is.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track lets the front three channels do most of the heavy lifting with minimal activity in the surrounds and LFE. That being said, their is a nice stereo spread across the front channels with directional cues placed widely across the sound field, and fidelity for dialog music and effects is excellent.
Extras consist of three Additional Scenes which are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound with available English and French subtitles. They are presented continuously without chapter stops with content as follows:
- [*]Tom, working on his model train set in his garage, reminisces about his mother and chasing a train passing near his childhood home when he is interrupted by Megan who asks a tough question. Tom also reveals that he recognized Davey as a kid who frequently used to hang around the train station asking questions.[*]While waiting at the train station, Davey interacts with a young girl who ultimately buys him a ticket.[*]Megan and Davey discuss the girl from the aforementioned scene who bought him the ticket that he did not use and how to pay her back.
- Love in a Time of Cholera DVD Trailer (:35)
- The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters DVD trailer (:35)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no insert.
Rails and Ties is a sensitive drama from first time director Alison Eastwood. While the symbolism and thematic material are laid on a bit thick and the plot circumstances feel heavily contrived, these shortcomings are balanced out somewhat by restraint in both cinematographic style and performances by its lead actors. It is presented on disc with a decent 16:9 enhanced 2.4:1 transfer that appears a bit soft, likely consistent with the intended style of the film, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that features very little surround activity but a wide stereo spread across the front channels with excellent fidelity. Extras consist of three mildly interesting deleted scenes.