Friday, May 6, 2011

Off the Map

Campbell Scott, 2003 (8.5*)
This small indie film is a most unusual tale, directed by actor Campbell Scott, son of Oscar®-winner George C. Scott. A small family farm is truly off the proverbial beaten path, so isolated that nearly no one can find it without a hand-drawn map. In fact, early in the story an IRS agent, Will Gibbs (Jim True-Frost), gets lost trying to find the family, who haven't been filing tax forms due to little or no income.

When he finds the farm after searching a week and walking 10 miles after sleeping in his car, he finds Joan Allen naked in her garden, staring at a healthy coyote who stalks and preys on rabbits that hang out in the garden. He immediately falls in love, even though she's married. Her husband, Sam Elliott, is mired in a months-long depression of unknown cause.

Daughter Valentina de Angelis [photo below], who narrates this story from her adulthood (Amy Brenneman, who somehow gets top billing with only a couple of minutes onscreen), is outgoing and self-confident, and along with her mother, they nurse Gibbs through days of a fever caused by a bee sting. After regaining his health, Gibbs is no longer interested in his prior life, and returns to his artwork, capturing the beauty of the New Mexican landscape surrounding the farm, and also Joan. Elliott's character is actually closer to catatonic than depressed, so the addition of Gibbs to the household is actually welcomed by the women.

Valentina de Angelis, then and now,
was 13 when she filmed Off the Map

The artwork used is very colorful, and mostly abstract, watercolors painted by local artist Stan Berning (whose art can be seen at, along with all the paintings done for the film project at Scott's request). The centerpiece painting is a 41-foot watercolor done by Gibbs to show the young girl the ocean meeting the horizon, since she's never seen an ocean.

This story progresses naturally, and never feels strained or forced. This is a beautiful, small film about being self-sufficient in a harsh environment. Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner, Singles) [photo below] turned out to be a better director than actor - let's hope he makes more films this artistic. Perhaps it's the acting of Joan Allen that makes this film what it is, she's one of the best around, long overdue for an Oscar®. Those who like her should also check out The Contender, which is perhaps her strongest performance.

Director Campbell Scott, son of actor George C.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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