[box cover]

Spring Forward

Good films certainly don't require A-list actors and $100 million worth of special effects. However, they do require good writing and solid acting. And as Tom Gilroy's small indie drama Spring Forward (1999) proves, if the script and actors are good enough, you don't even need a plot. Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber star as two park-maintenance employees, Murphy and Paul, who appear to have nothing in common. Family-man Murphy is approaching retirement, and his life's greatest concern at the moment is his gay son Bobby's failing health. Paul, on the other hand, is a temperamental young man who recently finished a short stint in prison for armed robbery, making the parks-and-rec job a rare employment opportunity. At first the two can barely manage a conversation — Paul's foul mouth gets him on the wrong side of Murphy, and he fails to keep his anger in check when bossed around by a local businessman (Campbell Scott). But eventually they find each other pleasant enough companions, and as the year progresses through the changing seasons they fill their days with stream-of-consciousness conversations about all manner of things — religion and spirituality, family, relationships, and personal responsibility. Spring Forward functions much more like a stage-play than a traditional movie. The story is broken up into six distinct segments wherein Murphy and Paul carry on their free-form discussions, but also meet at least one other person to build the scene: a young homeless man (Ian Hart), a neighbor that Murphy believes betrayed his trust (Bill Raymond), a friendly woman with a large litter of puppies (Peri Gilpin), two children in a park on a summer afternoon, and a woman driven to the edge of suicide in the face of a disastrous marriage (Catherine Kellner). It's fairly stunning how the film sneaks up on the viewer — the two lead characters are immediately appealing, but it soon becomes clear that the story isn't going much of anywhere. Plot arcs are offered, but never fully developed, and instead the seasons merely change and we find Murphy and Paul once again, months later, tackling another conversation. Spring Forward is a marvelous bit of screenwriting from writer/director Gilroy, realized by his two leads. Beatty — a reliable supporting actor with decades of Hollywood experience — handles his role wonderfully, communicating his character's fundamental nobility in the face of adversity. It is one of his best performances yet on film. Likewise, Schreiber fleshes out a compelling portrait of young-male frustration, clearly aware of his sense of right and wrong, and inquisitive enough to pursue spiritual concepts that may brace his desire for a more stable, rational life. The two men eventually connect as a father and son might, and when the time has come for Murphy to accept his retirement and an uncertain future, the story becomes not merely one of sharing and companionship, but of the need to offer and accept forgiveness. A quiet, hypnotic film that's simply not to be missed. MGM's DVD release of Spring Forward offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Surround. Keep-case.

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