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Miles from Home
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by Jack Sommersby

"An Interesting Road Picture with Commendable Acting"
4 stars

Even though starring Richard Gere it was mostly released to art-house theaters, resulting in a paltry box-office take. A real shame.

The unconvincing but affecting drama Miles from Home is a late entry in the save-the-farm subgenre, which previously gave us a 1984 trifecta with Country (with Jessica Lange), Places in the Heart (with Sally Field), and The River (with Sissy Spacek, not to mention Mel Gibson), and I think it's the best of the lot, and not necessarily because it's anything great but that those other three weren't particularly good. One wouldn't think Richard Gere convincing as a struggling farmer, but as Frank Roberts he gives a passable performance, and the actor playing his younger brother Terry, Kevin Anderson, is even better - they match up well and are plausible as siblings. The three-generations Roberts farmland used to be top-notch back in the day, but with the rise in costs and stagnant crop prices many farmers have been going under; it's not that they're incompetent but that the cards are stacked against them - growing food isn't necessarily the problem but profiting enough to "put food on the table" has been. It's gotten so bad for the Roberts brothers they're having to sell practically all their personal belongings, and it's here that Terry winds up finding his soulmate, Linda (Penelope Ann Miller), who's come up from Cedar Rapids to bargain hunt - in the movie's best moment, a transfixed Linda asks Terry what he's trying to do to her, and he replies "I don't know." Rather than handing over the farm to the bank, a stubborn and drunken Frank elects to burn the entire place down with Molotov cocktails, and from here he and Terry find themselves on the lam from the law, and the movie becomes a road picture with the brothers finding themselves in tricky situations, some of which instigated by Frank who has no compunctions in taking risks no matter how self-destructive. It's the junior Terry who tries reining his brother in, with Frank power-drunk on the publicity they're getting and unbridled support from their fellow farmers. As you've probably surmised by now Miles from Home is a hybrid of those farm movies mixed with Terrence Malick's 1973 Badlands, but it has an identity all its own - it's not terribly original but original enough, and better than Malick's vacuous artsy boondoggle that gave us an inaccessible lead character we could never manage to genuinely respond to. Granted, Frank isn't exactly complex but semi-intriguing in that we never know what he's going to do next; yes, when Frank's hurting soul is opened up in one of those going-for-the-Oscar bits Gere isn't quite up to the demands, but Anderson's solidity helps make up for this, and that also goes for the supporting cast (Miller, John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf), all of whom are from the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theater. (Another member of that, the thespian Gary Sinise, making his directorial debut here, has engineered things smoothly enough and had the good sense to employ that wunderkind cinematographer Elliot Davis to evocatively photograph it.) Oh, one could quibble with a laughable bit involving a small-town stripper just happening to know a Rolling Stone reporter who can conveniently get together $25,000 cash for the Roberts' to tell their story, but by and large Miles from Home succeeds in sidestepping a lot of missteps negligible movies of this type would easily fall into. It's undemanding entertainment that should satisfy those looking for something quaint and piquant without going overly didactic on us - when the ending credits roll we can't help but feel a fair amount of respect for it.

Preachy without ever being puerile, a tough thing to bring off

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originally posted: 09/12/20 08:29:49
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  11-Oct-1988 (R)



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