Spring Forward

2000, Movie, R, 110 mins

Review

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With a heart as big as its setting — the great outdoors — Tom Gilroy's debut feature is a little obvious, but it's an excellent showcase for the criminally underused Ned Beatty. Beatty stars as Murph, an unassuming senior employee with Connecticut's Parks and Recreation department who takes a new employee, Paul (Liev Schreiber), under his wing. Paul has just finished an 18-month stretch in the state pen for armed robbery — broke, he attempted to rob a Dunkin' Donuts — and with the help of a pile of self-help books, he's determined to put his life back on track. Murph, meanwhile, is approaching retirement and thinking about wrapping things up. Over the course of a year (the film opens in the late spring and ends in the dead of winter), a deep bond develops between these two very different men: Murph becomes the father Paul wishes he had, while Paul helps fill the hole left in Murph's heart by the son he's losing to a terminal illness. It comes as no surprise that Gilroy was first a playwright and a theater director: The film is essentially a series of loosely connected scenes confined to a single location (usually a public park), and while written expressly for the screen, it feels boxed-in and stagy. (Gilroy fools around with jumpcuts and includes a dream sequence and interstitial footage of folks going about their daily lives, but it still feels like a play. And please, no more bonding scenes involving a joint.) Schreiber is good, deftly balancing a New England accent and exuding an awkward charm, but this is Beatty's movie. A wonderfully warm, naturalistic actor, Beatty is usually relegated to supporting character roles, and it's a rare treat to seem him take center stage. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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