“Rails & Ties,” review by Susan Granger

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Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison makes an auspicious directing debut with this compelling family drama.

As the story begins, Megan Stark (Marcia Gay Harden), a nurse, is told that her long battle with breast cancer is ending. After surgery and chemotherapy, she’s determined to live her final weeks as fully as possible. But her taciturn husband, Tom (Kevin Bacon), is in total denial, channeling his emotions into the job he loves. He’s a railroad engineer, running the Stargazer Express between Los Angeles and Seattle.

Then a suicidal woman deliberately pulls her car on the tracks right in front of Tom’s on-rushing train, leaving her precocious, locomotive-loving 11 year-old son, Davey, an orphan. Fleeing from the foster home in which he’s placed, Davey tracks down Tom Stark and demands to know why he didn’t stop the train and save his mother.

Seizing the emotional opportunity, Megan reaches out to Davey – leaving Tom not only to confront the pending investigational hearing as a result of the accident but also to cope with the consequences of taking this ‘missing child’ into their home.

Utilizing contrivances and coincidences more suited for a movie-of-the-week on Lifetime TV, screenwriter Micky Levy delineates several lives on a bleak collision course. But actress-turned-director Alison Eastwood brings admirable spontaneity, understated intimacy and deft dexterity to her vision, astutely seeking collaboration with her father’s longtime cinematographer Tom Stern, production designer James Murakami and editor Gary Roach – adding her brother Kyle Eastwood’s evocative music.

What’s striking is the uncanny resemblance between Kevin Bacon’s reserved demeanor and verbal cadence and ‘early’ Clint Eastwood performances. Was that the actor’s choice or the director’s? On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Rails & Ties” is a heartfelt 7, particularly for an adult, female audience.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.