Yet I have just finished watching The Hi-Line, an incredible simple narrative ditty by two-time Academy Award winning sound guy Ronald Judkins (Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan), and, much to my surprise, the film wasn't all that bad.
Marketed completely wrong, one would see the tagline of The Hi-Line ("Vera Johnson is about to make a big discovery... herself") and assume that Rachael Leigh Cook completely cashed out last year with She's All That and began to make nothing more than Hollywood dribble. Yet The Hi-Line never goes down that terrible road to bad acting and incredible melodrama. Instead, it does what the last film from its executive producers (Instinct) did not: provides a decent character drama.
In The Hi-Line, Vera Johnson (Rachael Leigh Cook) is just like a lot of rural girls: she wants out of her Montana town. Her particular escape-of-choice is as clichéd as her character originally appears to be: Vera wants to model. Sam Polvino (Ryan Alosio) comes into town claiming to be a scout from a department store in Chicago, but we know from the get go that his motives are a little different. In truth, Sam knew Vera's real father, and Vera was one of those children who was left by her mother.
Rather than go the ultra-sentimental route and place in tons of symphonic crescendos, thus turning The Hi-Line into a melodramatic POS resembling a beat-up-Ford, The Hi-Line takes the high road into a journey of self-discovery.
For a sound man, Judkins manages his cast to perform just as well talking as silent. Newcomer Alosio turns out a very impressive performance as a man struggling not to become a drifter, while Rachael Leigh Cook acts up a very quiet storm as a woman facing internal struggles that her small town life has not prepared her for.
In the end, the characters bend inward, examine themselves, and come to the sort of resolution that you only get in movies.
Therein, of course, lies my gripe as a critic.
For such a thoughtful and nontraditional film, The Hi-Line manages to end so Hollywood that you begin to wonder what ever happened to that gem of originality. Although I enjoy happy ending as much as the next guy, I wonder if a more ambiguous ending would suit The Hi-Line better. To get an idea of a movie very similar to The Hi-Line that does this, watch Ed Radtke's The Dream Catcher, a film that is making the festival and European circuits but has not gotten the acclaim it deserves here. Yet when dealing with The Hi-Line, an art house film sure to draw quite a few teens on the appeal of Leigh Cook, a more resolved ending will probably prove to be just what the audience ordered. My other gripe is with director of photography Wally Pfister, who underlights the majority of the movie, resulting in a very unprofessional look.
Yet The Hi-Line takes the high road over these flaws as well. It ends up being mystic, intelligent, and a welcome break from what is beginning to look like a very ugly cinematic summer.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th May 2000
Distributed by: Creative Light Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Ron Judkins
Producer: Molly M. Mayeux, Collin Phillips
Screenwriter: Ron Judkins
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