Five Dramas from Sony Pictures
Deep Winter (February 25/09)
With its emphasis on admittedly impressive downhill skiing sequences, Deep Winter has clearly been geared towards enthusiasts of winter sports - yet the film's absence of compelling characters or a plot worth following ensures that the majority of viewers will find exceedingly little worth embracing here. The storyline kicks off with ace skier Tyler Crowe (Eric Lively) receiving the boot from his coach (Robert Carradine's Dando) after crashing in spectacular fashion during a pivotal (and televised) competition, and eventually follows the character as he heads to Alaska to help out a buddy (Kellan Lutz's Mark Rider) with the filming of an extreme-sports video. It's not surprising to note that there are few twists within Deep Winter that one doesn't see coming from a mile away, as screenwriter John Protass places a consistent emphasis on cliches that are almost egregiously hoary (ie the scripter seems to have employed a template for movies of this ilk). And since the movie has been infused with a number of striking outdoor interludes, there's consequently little doubt that one's tolerance for the film is directly related to one's interest in downhill skiing. That being said, the unreasonably uneventful midsection will likely test the patience of even the most ardent extreme sports buff - as it primarily details the various squabbles that ensue as Crowe and Rider wait to tackle a legendary Alaskan run. It's nevertheless worth noting that Deep Winter never quite crosses into unwatchable territory, with the aforementioned scenery and irresistibly earnest performances effectively perpetuating the movie's low-key, relatively affable atmosphere (and, of course, it's impossible not to get a kick out of Michael Madsen's expectedly idiosyncratic work as a grizzled Alaskan).
Frozen River casts Melissa Leo as Ray Eddy, a grizzled single mother whose financial difficulties are virtually resolved after she meets an irritable Native American (Misty Upham's Lila) and is subsequently drawn into an illegal border crossing scheme - although, as anticipated, there does reach a point at which she and her two kids (Charlie McDermott's T.J. and James Reilly's Ricky) start to feel the consequences of her increasingly perilous jaunts over the eponymous locale. First-time writer/director Courtney Hunt has infused Frozen River with a gritty fly-on-the-wall visual sensibility that proves an ideal match for the low-key storyline, with Leo's consistently engaging and downright hypnotic performance effectively carrying the movie through its less-than-enthralling sequences and subplots (ie it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for Lila's ongoing efforts at regaining custody of her child). There's little doubt, however, that the inclusion of several unexpectedly suspenseful interludes - the majority of which stem from, natch, Ray and Lila's trips to and from the Canadian border - ultimately elevate Frozen River above its microscopically-budgeted indie brethren, as Leo's character is fleshed-out to such an extent that one can't help but sympathize with her plight and root for her success. It's also worth noting that Leo's various co-stars - particularly Upham and McDermott - generally match the actress in terms of disappearing into their respective characters, which only cements Frozen River's place as an above-average kitchen-sink drama and instantly establishes Hunt as an up-and-coming talent worth watching.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Based on the book by Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter revolves around the turmoil that ensues after David Henry (Dermot Mulroney) elects to give away his Down's-afflicted newborn without informing his wife (Gretchen Mol's Nora) - leaving selfless nurse Caroline Gil (Emily Watson) with little choice but to raise the girl as her own. It's a solid (yet admittedly soapy) premise that's essentially squandered by Mick Jackson, as the director's low-rent sensibilities ensure that there's never a point at which the film's movie-of-the-week origins aren't painfully obvious. The less-than-subtle bent of John Pielmeier's screenplay is exacerbated by the inclusion of several melodramatic interludes and superfluous subplots (ie David and Nora's respective affairs), with the relentless emphasis on needless elements effectively lessening the impact of the abandoned girl's story (which is, as becomes clear almost immediately, the most intriguing aspect of The Memory Keeper's Daughter). Mulroney, Watson, and Mol's respective efforts at infusing the proceedings with bursts of authenticity are rendered moot by the sensationalistic nature of the script, and although the conclusion does pack something of an emotional punch, it's simply not enough to salvage what is otherwise a fairly standard made-for-television production.