Around the Bend
Directed by Jordan Roberts. Starring Michael Caine, Christopher Walken, Josh Lucas, Jonah Bobo, Glenne Headly, David Eigenberg. (2004, R, 85 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 22, 2004
Jordan Roberts’ feature debut pulls off the dizzying high-wire act of being both a misty-eyed glimpse into four generations of the men in the Lair family and a steely meditation on manhood, parenting, and the pitfalls thereof. It’s by turns weepy and hilarious, a little bit Caine and a whole lotta Walken, with Secondhand Lions’ Josh Lucas reteaming with Sir Michael and managing, once again, to hold his own against the original Alfie. What’s it all about? Caine plays the elder Lair, Henry, who as the film begins is in the process of dying with all the crusty wit he can muster (which is plenty). He shares the family home with his grandson Jason (Lucas) and his great-grandson Zach (Bobo) and all his memories and mementos until a grimacing, wire-haired wraith appears at the front door one evening and turns everything into a Sundance Institute crash course in Writing From the Heart. That wraith is Jason’s long-estranged father Turner (Walken, relatively subdued despite a hairstyle that recalls Frank Doubleday’s hissing Romero character in Escape From New York), who walked out on his son and his father some 30 years before, following the death of his wife (and the maiming of his son) in an automobile accident. Jason is less than thrilled at this possibly malignant returner, a former heroin addict and professional sneak thief, but Henry is exultant, and before he dies he takes the lot of them to the local KFC for a final meal and then pens a last will and testament that takes the surviving trio on a road trip across the country, stopping here and there at various KFCs to read another Post-It note instruction and make a heart-warming (and toward the end, -stopping) revelation or two. This sort of thing rarely works these days – it’s just too difficult to steer the modern audience through the treacherous twin perils of brimstone and treacle without capsizing your craft amid gales of laughter – but somehow Roberts manages to make it work, against all odds. Caine, of course, owns the screen every second he’s on it, but after his character exits the scene, it’s up to Lucas and Walken to battle it out, and battle they do. There’s an exquisite fine-tunedness to the screenplay (thank you Mr. Redford) that belies the occasional gush of sentimentality, and a final grace note that will, yes, mist the eyes of all but the most cynical in the audience. (Particularly notable within this thick testosterone mix is Bobo as the young Zach, who sidesteps preciousness with a genuinely gifted ease.) A fine, familial elixir to remedy despair and soften hardened hearts, Around the Bend is likely just the first of many feathers in Roberts shiny, new directorial cap.