Rails & Ties

2007, Movie, PG-13, 101 mins


Alison Eastwood, the daughter of actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood, makes her directing debut with this ludicrous melodrama, in which a troubled couple and a newly orphaned boy heal each others' emotional wounds against a backdrop of blunt metaphors.

Tom Stark's (Kevin Bacon) life is trains, and when his wife, Megan (Marcia Gay Harden), receives the news that her recurring breast cancer has entered the terminal stage, he seeks refuge in the engineer's cabin of the Stargazer Express. But what should have been a routine trip proves anything but: As Tom and his associate, Otis (Eugene Byrd), come around a curve while steaming through picturesque Simi Valley, they spot a car on the tracks. Otis wants to hit the emergency brake, but Tom opts for by-the-book procedure, trying to slow the train rather than risk derailing it. They hit the car and kill the driver, suicidal, hyper-religious drunk Laura Danner (Bonnie Root); her 11-year-old son, Davey (Miles Heizer), escapes. Tom is relieved of duty pending a hearing to determine the appropriateness of his actions, which forces him to spend time with Megan and confront their marital miseries, rooted in the fact that Tom's frequent work-based moves discouraged them from having the children Megan so desperately wanted. Meanwhile Davey — who's been placed in foster care — escapes and tracks down Tom, whom he blames for killing his mother. But when the child turns up at the Starks' door, a strange thing happens: Davey's plight moves Megan so deeply that she demands that Tom let the child stay with them. And so the healing begins.

Screenwriter Micky Levy's heart may be in the right place, but her sense of how people act in 21st-century America is wildly out of whack, starting with Megan's "Can I keep him?" behavior, which is more appropriate for an abandoned kitten than a runaway child, even if the Starks don't know that Davey has a dedicated — if thoroughly inept — social worker (Marin Hinkle) who has both reported him missing and started her own grassroots search for the boy. Levy and Eastwood work the railroad metaphor for all it's worth, beginning with the title, which manages to be simultaneously obscure and, after you've seen the film, painfully obvious — oh, right, it's about making tracks vs. family ties. Um, clever. And for all the tried-and-true tear-jerking elements — dead mom, dying wife who wishes she'd been a mom, orphaned child — the film rings so consistently false that it's more likely to induce snickers and eye-rolling. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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