Director(s): Victor Nunez
Writer(s): Victor Nunez
Cast: Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Christine Dunford, Tom Wood, Jessica Biel, Vanessa Zima, Steven Flynn and Dewey Weber
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jun 6, 1997 - Wide
If Bre-X’s Busang site contained as much gold as Peter Fonda’s performance in Ulee’s Gold, they’d still be the darlings of the TSE.
Since Easy Rider, Peter Fonda has often been lumped into the Henry’s son, Jane’s brother, Bridget’s father celebrity category. His performance in Ulee’s Gold makes you forget those connections and applaud what is already being touted as an Oscar-contending outing.
Fonda plays Ulee Jackson, a widowed Florida beekeeper who is raising his two grandchildren because their father’s doing time and their mother has run off. Ulee seems to be having enough trouble controlling Casey, the eldest granddaughter, when his son Jimmy calls to ask if he’ll rescue his wife, who’s currently living in a drug-addled haze with two of Jimmy’s former partners-in-crime. Ulee, already struggling to make enough honey to meet a contract, reluctantly takes on the task. In the process, he manages to bring the family back together and come out of the emotional isolation he’s felt since his wife’s death.
Writer Victor Nunez’s direction is more a face study than a character study. Through countless close-ups we see every tick of Ulee’s thoughts. That is what makes Fonda’s performance so refreshing, as we actually see a character thinking, not just blindly and perfectly executing every move like the heroes in the summer’s other films. Knowing that Ulee is a Vietnam vet almost makes you expect him to suddenly do something dramatic to save his family. Nunez, however, knows that most of us perform many small acts of courage that add up to the challenging task of keeping a family safe and together.
Fonda’s character has worked hard at his job since his wife’s passing, and each step he makes on the road to pulling his family together slowly awakens him from the emotional hibernation he’s been in. A part of his awakening is the hint of future romance he shares with Connie Hope, a nurse and tenant who helps the family dry out Ulee’s wayward daughter-in-law.
Connie is portrayed by Patricia Richardson of TV’s Home Improvement. This is not just a “what I did on hiatus from my sitcom” performance. Richardson’s character has a quiet strength to her, and you almost wish you could see more interaction between her and Fonda. Performances by Jessica Biel and Vanessa Zima as the two granddaughters are also worth watching.
Virgil Marcus Mirano’s camera work is very good, capturing the lush tones of the swampy Florida setting. After a summer of fast-paced action flicks it’s just nice to see a slow establishing shot for a change.
I only had one complaint with my experience seeing Ulee’s Gold and that was not the fault of the movie. Considering that we have to sit through almost fifteen minutes of trailers and commercials, perhaps Cineplex-Odeon could spend some of that money keeping their prints clean. I really didn’t shell out money to see dust and hair through several of the scenes. Get with the program guys!
Anyway, Ulee’s Gold earns a highly recommended.