"Spring Forward" is a quiet and simple but exceptionally absorbing character study about two everyday men at opposite ends of their working lives -- one a young parolee trying to begin anew, the other reluctantly watching his retirement encroaching on his unaffected contentment.
The film opens on the day Paul (Liev Schreiber) begins work in the parks and recreation department of a small New England berg. Fresh out of the pokey for holding up a Dunkin' Donuts in a moment of financial desperation, he's very rough around the edges, has a short temper and the look of a man apprehensively aware that this is his one real chance to turn his life around.
On his first day as a maintenance worker he's coupled with Murph (Ned Beatty), a life-long municipal employee whose years in the job are apparent in his body language and his shoulder-shrugging perspective on the things in life he cannot control. "Spring Forward" ends a year later, on the day Murph retires.
In between, writer-director Tom Gilroy (the creative heart of New York's Machine Full theater company) presents a handful of seasonal vignettes that explore the mutual influence these two men have on each other's lives as they become close friends while working assorted outdoor jobs on the town's public lands.
Schreiber has definite ex-con credibility as his short-fuse personality slowly tempers into something more self-possessed and reflective. He begins to become comfortable with his place in the world and feels like his life is back on track.
Beatty's performance may be the best he's ever given in 100-plus films. He beautifully portrays the unpretentious wisdom of Murph's life experience, his inherent (if haggard) goodness and his don't- push- the- river- it- flows- by- itself take on life.
Gilroy's modest, philosophical script -- which sees Paul and Murph through some tough personal times and touches on topics from spirituality and morality to sex, AIDS and finding a soul mate -- is so strongly written that the film would likely be an artistic victory with any number of capable actors in the leads. (Indeed, one can imagine it as a stage play that is almost as good with its road company cast.) But Schreiber and especially Beatty make the movie golden.
"Spring Forward" is the kind of small film that must be discovered and talked about to have any box office success. Here's hoping it gets seen by enough people to start that vital word-of-mouth wave.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th December 2000
Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Tom Gilroy