Derek (acclaimed Canadian actor Michael Riley) is so dedicated to the love he has for his family that he resorts to increasingly dangerous lengths to preserve it. After he and Allison separate -- she tells him it's temporary, but we soon know better -- the distraught dad lurks in places he shouldn't, watching his young son Will (Connor Widdows) leave school and spying on the house that once was his. The result -- and this is not a spoiler in any sense -- is Derek's abduction of his son.
As Derek, Michael Riley is a blueprint for heart-on-your-sleeve desperation, pulling the audience in with droopy eyes and an unkempt look that just screams for attention rather than disgust. As Riley molds Derek into an emotional survivalist, he also removes the character's true manhood, layer by layer.
His performance exists within an excellent storytelling construct -- unconventionally, the aforementioned abduction occurs in the film's first scene, with multiple timelines played it out with a delicate form and superb editing. The present day consists of Derek and Will's escape into the mountains, where Derek imagines an isolated wilderness life; flashbacks, most in chronological order, illuminate Derek's loneliness and jealousy when dealing with his unwanted familial separation; and heartbreaking video footage within the flashbacks shows Will as a beautiful baby boy, and Derek and Allison as proud parents.
This structure (with a script by playwright Michael Melski) gives the film a unique feeling of suspense that usually feels forced in similar movies. Riley's performance already mixes helplessness with twinges of urgency and danger -- as the timelines progress, unfolding events from the past amp up the bad feelings, leading us to think that perhaps the worst is yet to come. Derek's journeys, the physical and the emotional, get increasingly darker with each revelation and the downward spiral continues. The presentation reminded me of the less affecting The Clearing, where a kidnapping is held in a different time window as a connected part of the story, effectively keeping the runaways in a narrative vacuum.
None of this would work without standout acting, and that's exactly what the three leads provide. In addition to Riley in the anchor role, Widdows (who looks likes a combination of Macaulay Culkin and Sarah Polley) plays the accepting son with a good mix of strength and blind faith, and Sabrina Grdevitch builds Allison with a few gestures and even fewer words.
Mile Zero is one of those movies with good direction and vision, rock-solid acting, and no distribution. We see these films at festivals every year -- and this one has seen its share of festivals since 2002 -- and risky content or a lack of stars keep them out of theaters. Now on DVD, this rarely seen Canadian winner should finally find an American indie audience.
DVD includes deleted scenes (with alternate ending), commentary from Currie, cast interviews, and more.
Run time: 92 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th September 2001
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Fresh: 7 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Andrew Currie
Screenwriter: Michael Melski