“Mending the Line” is one of those movies that shouldn’t work.
It’s the kind of story we’ve seen too many times. It’s too predictable, too generic in its plotting.
It works anyway.
That’s due in large part to the performances, which are excellent all the way around, particularly those of Brian Cox, Wes Studi, Sinqua Walls and Perry Mattfeld. But it also has to do with director Joshua Caldwell and cinematographer Eve Cohen, who create a kind of peaceful world for the audience to spend time in.
If the story isn’t surprising, the film’s appeal is.
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What is 'Mending the Line' about?
When we meet Colter (Walls), he is leading his Marines into one last battle in Afghanistan before they are supposed to go home. Things go tragically wrong, and Colter blames himself. He winds up in a rehabilitation hospital in Montana, hoping to heal both his physical injuries and his psychological ones so that he can return to active duty.
Dr. Burke (Patricia Heaton) supervises his progress. It’s a struggle for Colter. He’s drinking constantly and his hair-trigger temper is not a great fit for group therapy. He is lying to himself about his progress, or lack thereof.
Meanwhile, Ike (Cox), a crusty old retired Marine who fought in Vietnam, is getting too old to go fly-fishing by himself. Burke has an idea: Ike should teach Colter to fish. It will be good for both of them.
If it sounds like the setting for a standard redemption arc, that’s because it is. And there is more: Lucy (Mattfeld), the local librarian, is struggling with the death of her fiancé two years before. She and Colter cross paths when Ike, as part of Colter’s preparation, orders him to read up on fly-fishing — the source of more great literature than any other sport, Ike claims.
(Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” may not have been the best choice for Colter in his situation, Lucy’s co-worker points out.)
All three characters are broken in some way, in desperate need of healing. They will find it on the river and in each other.
Of course they will.
It’s how they get there that makes “Mending the Line” more rewarding than it might have been.
Stunning visuals and stellar acting save what could have been a massive eye-roll of a film
Ike teaches Colter how to fish the way Mr. Miyagi teachers Daniel to fight in “The Karate Kid” — by making him do something else. He orders him to inventory the stock at the fishing store, unload boxes, do anything but cast a line into the water.
There are tactical operations and boot camp, Ike explains. This is boot camp.
Colter is frustrated, but Harrison (Studi) explains his old friend: Ike can’t drink anymore, he doesn’t go to movies or watch TV, he doesn’t have any friends and he “hasn’t listened to music since Creedence broke up in ’72.”
It’s a joy to watch Studi as he brings a patient wisdom to his character. Mattfeld is also good, slowly peeling away Lucy’s icy outer layers as she and Colter grow closer.
But it’s Colter and Ike’s relationship at the center of the film. It is fascinating to see Cox so soon after the ending of “Succession” playing a character like this, one who thanks the fish he catches before releasing them. (Although in other respects, his demeanor is not that far afield from Logan Roy. He just has far more limited means.)
Walls believably portrays a man who is clearly lying to himself about his life, but allows difficult truths to seep in over time.
Nothing here is earth-shattering, although the visuals are stunning; it’s easy to see the calming effect the river would have on someone. But through its setting and performances, “Mend the Line” has just enough going for it to recommend it.
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'Mending the Line' 3 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Joshua Caldwell.
Cast: Brian Cox, Sinqua Walls, Perry Mattfeld.
Rating: R for language and some violent images.
How to watch: In theaters Friday, June 9.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Mending the Line' review: Gone fishin' with Brian Cox