A young mother (Bonnie Root) finally feels the overwhelm of parenthood, addiction, and squalid living conditions. She takes sleeping pills and parks her car on the train tracks right before the morning train is due to arrive. The train comes around a blind corner and collides with the car, killing the woman instantly. As the engineer calms his passengers and awaits the police, the woman’s son emerges from the side of the tracks. He was supposed to die too, but he spit out the pills his mother gave him; now, alone in the world, he can only blame the engineer for his mother’s death – and blame himself for being unable to pull her limp body out of the car in time.
Engineer Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon) has quickly become a workaholic after his beloved wife, Megan (Marcia Gay Harden), is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unable to face the realities at home, he stays on the tracks – until the day a suicidal woman parks her car in front of his train, and he’s suspended from work pending an investigation into his actions. There’s nothing he can do to assuage Megan’s feelings of abandonment or her regrets that they never had any children, so when young Davie Danner (Miles Heizer) escapes from a foster home and tracks him down, accusing him of killing his mother, he lets Davie stay under his dying wife’s care.
Think of every movie you’ve ever seen that fits the stereotype of heart-warming, tear-jerking drama and you have this film – it’s intensely emotional most of the way through, and deals with some pretty harsh realities of life that are very difficult to even think about, let alone watch. No one wants to consider what it would be like to watch their spouse die slowly with no help to be had, what it would be like to be dying while feeling unfulfilled in life, or what it would be like to lose a parent to suicide. These and a number of other very difficult scenarios present themselves within this story from director Alison Eastwood. Having said that, this reviewer believes that the hallmark of a good movie is one that leaves you feeling something, and as such this daughter of Clint Eastwood has certainly landed a winning film for her directorial debut.
Marcia Gay Harden is well-known for her portrayals of women who are – for lack of a better term – complete witches…with a capital B. In Rails and Ties, Harden does a 180-degree turn from this type of character to play the tortured Megan Stark. She’s kind, gentle, nurturing, and extremely emotional – and she does it all without a hitch. Combine her skills with those of Kevin Bacon, and you have excellent on-screen chemistry and a really moving duo. Otherwise, Miles Heizer did a decent job as Davie, and may make a good acting career for himself with a little more experience (this film was his fifth role). Margo Martindale made a brief appearance as a foster mother, but most of the other background characters were played by somewhat stiff characters that did bring the overall quality down slightly, but not significantly.
While the story line was quite predictable, it never was meant to be suspenseful – for this story, it’s truly all in the telling. That said, if you need some suspense then this is certainly not the movie for you, since after about ten minutes one can practically write the rest of the story in your head. The pacing is a little slow in parts, but most of the time it stays moving and keeps viewers engaged.
Overall, this is one of those “ultra chick flicks” that is perfect for an evening in with some popcorn, a glass of milk, and an economy-size box of tissues. This film certainly fulfills its primary objective as a touchy-feely, heart-warming drama perfectly and is certainly worth taking a look. Bear in mind that it is a difficult movie to watch, and as such many may not wish to watch it more than once, so it might be more a candidate for a rental or the Netflix queue rather than your next cinematic purchase.