Film Review: Still Mine

Geneviève Bujold and especially James Cromwell do much to enrich and humanize this sensitively done geezers-in-peril entry.

Not since the glory days of Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck has there been such a stoic, rural visionary as Craig Morrison (James Cromwell), an aged but strapping specimen, bent on building a new house on his big Canadian property for his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife, Irene (Geneviève Bujold).

Unfortunately, Craig falls afoul of the local zoning board, namely a martinet named Rick (Jonathan Potts, infuriatingly good), who is forever finding fault with his materials and lack of adherence to conventional building methods and government protocol. As Irene’s condition worsens, making the need for a new, safer abode all the more critical, it all winds up in court with Craig’s lawyer (Campbell Scott, in an unnecessary, disfiguring “character” moustache) fighting the very real possibility that the house will be bulldozed and Craig sent to jail.

As plotlines go, this one is pretty slight, and writer-director Michael McGowan owes Cromwell a huge debt of gratitude for the impressive gravitas and emotional depth with which he imbues the material in Still Mine. A great, handsome camera subject with his height and aquiline profile, this solid character actor, son of that solid Hollywood actor’s director, John Cromwell—whose films contain nary a bad performance and from whom his son must have learned a thing or three—skillfully avoids making Craig a cantankerous pain-in-the-ass. The innate dignity and mordant independence with which he comports himself handily take the character out of the realm of preachy superiority. And, without making too big a deal of it, he easily convinces you of his vast love for his wife with a tenderness that possesses the one quality truly lacking in modern film these days, gallantry.

Although the encroaching mental infirmity of the aged is an important subject facing a generation of baby boomers and their parents these days, the theme would seem to have been already exhausted by the likes of Away from Her and Amour. But I preferred Still Mine to both of those films, finding it more simply human than either, while being more detailed and inhabited than the former, and less airlessly pretentious than the latter. Brendan Steacy’s lovely, crisp photography is a definite boon, and although I wish more had been done with Irene’s character, it’s always great to see the marvelous Bujold, especially as radiantly (and blessedly) unsurgically altered as she remains here. She was the best Anne Boleyn ever, and was electrifyingly good in The Trojan Women, Obsession, Coma and Choose Me, so it’s rather a shame that she only gets to delicately deteriorate here on the sidelines, while Cromwell gets all the action as The Central Man (as in blockbusters, so in indies). But those wide, childlike eyes are as brightly alert as ever and she suggests things in Irene’s past as well as a deep sensuality which make you totally understand Craig’s devotion to her.