Saving Shiloh, the third and final adaptation of author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's trilogy about a West Virginia family and the abused beagle they rescue, is noble but unexceptional-except as a chance to see the astounding character actor Scott Wilson. The veteran performer-presently getting the exposure he deserves, playing the recurring role of Sam Braun on TV's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation"-is back as bad guy Judd Travers, the meanest man in them thar hills. Judd had beaten poor puppy Shiloh until the dog ran away in Shiloh (1996); he tried to get Shiloh back from new owner Marty Preston in Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season (1999). Now, recovering from a truck accident in the latter film and seemingly less of a threat, Judd finds himself at the center of small-town murder and burglary investigations, as well as a rumor mill spinning on overdrive. Goodhearted Marty (a blank Jason Dolley, the third actor in the role) believes that Judd is innocent, and his salt-of-the-earth dad (Gerald McRaney) is proud of him for that. But things don't look good for the taciturn, tobacco-spitting enigma in his Appalachian shack.

Wilson really is the only reason an adult or any child other than the very youngest moviegoer could watch this well-meaning, easygoing family drama. He continues to imbue Judd with such documentary reality, it makes virtually every other backwoods character in the movies seem transparent and unresearched. There's nothing simple or stereotypical about Wilson's Judd, not even at the end of his character arc, and the inarticulate complexities of a man who would never formulate the phrase "abuse survivor" is a marvel to behold. There's also some multidimensional vulnerability to dad Preston, whose aged mother suffers from apparent Alzheimer's, but there's nothing touchy-feely about it. Real men do get teary.

In their third portrayals each, Ann Dowd, as Marty's mother, and Bonnie Bartlett, as the widow of veterinarian Doc Wallace (played in the first two films by Rod Steiger, to whom this installment is dedicated), provide some continuity. Set in the real-life town of Friendly, West Virginia, the film is a rare production shot on location in that rural state.
The dog himself doesn't really have that much to do. Sure is cute, though.

-Frank Lovece