RAILS & TIES, under the guidance of first time director Alison Eastwood, tackles an implausible subject of multiple tragedies resulting in repairing personal breaks and with the able assistance of a groups of excellent actors makes a finely tune, sensitive study of little lives struggling against major odds. It is well conceived, well written (Micky Levy), well acted and sincerely moving.
Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon) is a train engineer, married to his job as well as being married to his nurse wife Megan (Marcia Gay Harden) who is facing the ugly fact that her breast cancer is terminal. The cancer has spread beyond Megan's body into the tenuous space that keeps a marriage glued: Megan attempts to hide her desperate need for emotional support by continuing to work as a nurse and Tom takes on extra train runs to avoid the reality that face him at home. The other side of the story is equally sad: young Davey Danner (Miles Heizer) cares of his psychologically shattered mother (Bonnie Root) and unknowingly accompanies her on a jaunt to 'see the train' - a ploy well planned by the suicidal mother to drive in front of an oncoming train to end her life along with Davey's. The conductor of the train is of course Tom Stark, and when Tom first sees the car on the tracks, he keeps to company policy that recommends gradual slowing rather than the danger of an abrupt stop: the result is the death of Davey's mother but Davey escapes the crash while trying to pull his mother from the car. The tragedies mount: Davey is left homeless, being placed in a foster home run by the cruel 'mom' (Margo Martindale) only to escape to find the 'killer' of his mother; Tom is put on leave for the incident; Megan gets the final word that she has very little time left and is ready to leave the distant Tom. It is this inadvertent entrance of Davey into the lives of Tom and Megan that results in a healing of three souls who are desperate for the connection of love.
While some my find the story implausible and saccharine, others will appreciate the manner in which Eastwood holds rein on the story, playing it for quiet honesty instead of explosive situations. Both Bacon and Harden deliver the quality of sophisticated performances that have marked their careers, and the remainder of the cast gives strong support - especially Eugene Byrd, Marin Hinkle, Bonnie Root, Margo Martindale, and of course Miles Heizer. This is a tough story to tell but the film holds an indelible mark on the viewer. Grady Harp, June 08