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Moonlight Mile

Death is an inevitable fact of life, but few people are forced to deal with a familial loss in its most sudden and brutal terms. Ben and JoJo Floss (Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon) have no choice — their daughter Diana recently was murdered in a freak coffeeshop shooting, and they haven't even started to sift through the fragments of their grief on her burial day. Ben believes his recovery will come through activity, causing him to redouble his efforts as a commercial Realtor in the family's small New England town. JoJo is far more pragmatic, if equally closed off — she barely contains the acrid hostility she feels towards her sympathetic friends and their trite, awkward comments, and she accepts the fact that her vocation as a writer has been derailed indefinitely. But Ben and JoJo turn to at least one common person to help assuage their sense of loss: Diana's fiancé Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was to marry Diana and become a partner in Ben's real estate firm. Unfortunately, Joe also is unable to arrive at any sort of cathartic truth about Diana's murder, but he agrees to continue living in the Floss household, aware that his presence keeps Diana alive to her parents, for better or worse. But Joe harbors a secret about his engagement that he has yet to tell anybody, and he also finds solace in the arms of local postal worker Bertie Knox (Ellen Pompeo), whose last boyfriend went MIA in Vietnam three years earlier. Set in 1973 Massachusetts, writer/director Brad Silberling's Moonlight Mile (2002) is a semi-autobiographical tale and an attempt to convey his own experiences with grief and loss after the 1989 shooting death of his girlfriend, actress Rebecca Schaeffer. The movie approaches its somber subject in an up-front manner, but Silberling doesn't try to tug any heartstrings with cheap tactics — the film's four main characters each deal with their anguish in the small, personal ways that real people do, be it via denial, passive-aggressive hostility, anxiety, or silence. The cast is a good fit for Silberling's purpose, with Susan Sarandon delivering a series of acrid comments towards virtually everyone, save Joe — she admits that she's somewhat invested in her daughter's fiancé and isn't sure how she will accept it when he begins dating someone else. Dustin Hoffman comes up with a good turn as well, trying to mask the frustration he feels about the loss of his daughter with an ambitious retail-development project involving a wealthy investor (Dabney Coleman). Solid supporting work comes from Holly Hunter as the town's D.A., while Ellen Pompeo is funny and heartbreaking as the post-office girl who clutches to the memory of her dead boyfriend. However, the bulk of Moonlight Mile rests on the shoulders of young Jake Gyllenhaal, who is a talented actor, and adequate here. Any frustrations with his performance probably can be credited to the screenplay and/or the direction — he's far too passive early on with his quiet, sleepy-eyed manner, and the plot mechanics require that his character withhold both emotion and information. It may seem a bit frustrating at first, but as the film gradually unfolds, viewers are given more opportunities to sympathize with his unusual predicament, as well as appreciate the story's ultimate suggestion that grief prevails when people refuse to face the realities of their own lives. Buena Vista's DVD release of Moonlight Mile features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include the featurette "Moonlight Mile: A Journey to Screen" (22 min.); a thoughtful commentary track by director Silberling; an engaging second track, wherein Silberling is joined by Hoffman and Gyllenhaal; and ten deleted scenes with director's commentary. Keep-case.

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