By no means your typical terminal illness weepie, though some of those related symptoms come close to being diagnosed here, Rails & Ties is less about loss than a face-to-face with human mortality. Fortunately, not too many of us spend 24/7 thinking about our own inevitable destiny with death, which would make life in general an excruciating downer. But the film poses the question on a decidedly more positive note, that is, how would you live your days, even moments, in a really meaningful way if you were fully conscious of time running out.
Sharing both DNA and similar creative tendencies, is Clint’s actress daughter Alison Eastwood, as first time director of Rails And Ties. Marcia Gay Harden stars as Megan, a terminally ill breast cancer patient – significant now during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In no way a woman who takes her choice of roles lightly, Harden was also up to the grueling challenge of another far-from-pretty-sight character in the movie Canvas, opening just a few weeks ago, as a rapidly deteriorating schizophrenic housewife who gives Joe Pantoliano’s caring spouse a really hard time.
In Rails & Ties, Kevin Bacon faces a similar ordeal as Tom Stark, a train motorman whose reaction to his wife’s announcement that she’s quit her day job, as a nurse because she’s dying, is emotional withdrawal, bitterness and denial. When a down-and-out, drug addicted and suicidal single mother (Bonnie Root) deliberately parks her car on the tracks with her son Miles at her side and directly in the path of Tom’s approaching speeding train, the currently dazed and depressed railroad man refuses to pull the emergency cord.
Miles makes a desperate and vain effort to drag his barely conscious drugged mom from the imminent collision, and she’s killed while his survival instinct to back away just in time saves his life, but with an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. And Tom is off the hook, at least for now until a formal hearing, citing his by-the-book operation rules decision not to stop the train, to avoid a potential derailment.
When the orphaned Miles runs away from foster care to track down the man who snuffed out his mother’s life, legal or otherwise, and this childless couple and the boy end up bonding and forming their own make-believe family, believability gets stretched pretty much to its outer limits. Too bad, because you’re with these characters all the way up until this point, as everyday ordinary people up against extraordinary life circumstances, and just the way they come up with bold and imaginative coping solutions.
Bacon in particular turns in a solid, attention grabbing performance as a rigid, scornful man in a deep funk just trying to cling to a familiar world disintegrating all around him. And the way his brittle heart softens as he finally gets it, about his wife’s fearlessness in facing down death, adds to what is shaping up as an impressive trend of sensitive surrogate family man screen role models.
Warner Home Video
DVD Features: Additional Scenes: Kevin Bacon’s Character As A Child; Runaway With A Heart Of Gold.