Directed by Brad Silberling. USA. 2002.

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After the murder of his fiancée, Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhall) moves in with her parents, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and JoJo Floss (Susan Sarandon). He is there to comfort them, help with the funeral arrangements, and prepare for the ordeal of a trial. Based on the personal experience of the director, whose girlfriend was murdered in 1989, Moonlight Mile is an intimate, touching, and often amusing film about coming to terms with loss and having the courage to tell the truth about it. It will keep the cliché counters very busy but it is from the heart and I was tremendously moved by its message and by the superlative performances of its outstanding cast that includes Holly Hunter as the family's lawyer. 

Set in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, in 1973, there are no flashbacks and we do not witness the killing or meet Diana. The film begins at the funeral and shows each person in a state of emotional limbo, not ready to fully accept the emotional consequences of their loss. Ben feels remorse about his lack of emotional connection with his daughter but goes immediately back to work in commercial real estate and convinces Joe to come in with him as his partner, changing the company name to Floss & Son. JoJo is a tough minded writer without any affectations who rebels against the insincere displays of affection shown by people in the community, retreats into herself and visits past addictions. 

Joe is frozen in time, unable to look back and afraid to look ahead. He is afraid to tell Diana's parents that his relationship with their daughter had been deteriorating before the tragedy occurred. When he goes to the post office to retrieve the wedding invitations, Joe meets Bertie (Ellen Pompeo) who works as a clerk in the mailroom and also at a local bar called Cal's Place. They find that they have much in common. Bertie boyfriend is missing in action in Vietnam and she has cut herself off from other relationships. Their friendship develops slowly but it is genuine and there is a great deal of truth conveyed by their awkward silences. Both help each other to come to terms with their emotional isolation and open the door to growth, powerfully dramatized when Joe testifies at the trial of Diana's killer.

Moonlight Mile is an honest film because it dares to tell the truth about its characters. They are flawed human beings who, in their own way, have been living a lie yet are able to confront their life with wit and intelligence. You and I would most likely have reacted differently to such a tragic event, but these are quirky, offbeat people who, in the hands of superb actors, are fully believable. There are two ways you can look at a film like Moonlight Mile. You can notice how many times you felt "manipulated", add up the number of trite phrases or "speeches", or you can just sit back, listen to some great 70s rock music, feel the pulse of its humanity, and drink it up like a glass of Harvey's on a cold night. L'Chaim!

Howard Schumann
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