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Amy Holden Jones
John Netherwood and his wife Leann are fugitives who are both wanted for murder. They have a young daughter named Janie. John and Leann are in the process of robbing a house when the two residents of the house show up. John kills the two residents and heads back to the car with Leann - only to discover the police waiting for them. John and Leann get away after a cop shoots John, and Janie is placed up for adoption. Janie is soon adopted by southern California carpenter Russell Clifton and his wife Dana - and what they don't know is that they're in for the fight of their lives. John and Leann are trying to locate Janie and will stop at nothing to find her, even if it means killing whoever is in their way. When John and Leann discover that Janie was adopted by Russell and Dana, they plot to kill Russell and Dana and take Janie, but one thing they don't expect is for Russell and Dana to fight back with all they've got, because Russell and Dana are willing to do whatever it takes to hold ...Written by
Todd Baldridge <email@example.com>
Slightly obscured today in amid many of its kind, The Tie That Binds found writer Wesley Strick taking up directing (though he's not credited for this script) what is a mash-up of two pop-culture tropes: the trashy, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week kind of thriller and the Killers-On-The-Run-but-also-lovers movies. This doesn't always have to mean that the former is about a psychotic woman stalking another woman; many Lifetime movies concern melodramas involving children who are really f***ed up, and not all killer/lovers movies (True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Kalifornia, Freeway, maybe Doom Generation to an extent pop to mind, there are probably others) are only just the couple. Strick is able to find some wildly trashy entertainment out of both, even as he tends to over-direct things. What I mean by that I'll get to shortly.
In this case the premise has a couple of degenerate criminals (Carradine and Hannah, having the time of their lives in these parts, with Carradine being sleazy as all get out, while Hannah has that Juliette Lewis fluttery-crazy butterfly thing going on, like she could kill something in a moment but seems calmer than what Lewis did in NBK) with a daughter, and after a bad break-in the daughter is left behind and the cops take her. She's turned over to child protective services and, instead of going to some bad foster home, she's discovered by Nice TV Movie Couple Moira Kelly and Vincent Spano. While she is a photographer (conveniently tying in to how Carradine's character also took photos at the scenes of his crimes), he is trying to build a house from scratch as a contractor. Neither seem to fully grasp that their newly adopted little girl is traumatized completely, having lived a life that is kind of like a wild child, only with manic criminal-killer-thief people. Drama ensues, and meanwhile her real parents go on the long road to hell to track her down.
It's got a lot of elements of the 90's and I think that it's not as strong as a lot of examples I could think of. But I think Strick recognizes fully both the potential and the weaknesses in this material; we know the good couple are going to be good and the bad couple are going to be completely tasteless freaks. Where Strick goes wrong is mostly near the end, and midway through, where he tries to go for some planting and paying off by suddenly going into the girl's point of view; it's a pretentious move (and also an odd thing to see, say, children in a play with fairy tales being done up with... adults acting with the kids, i.e. the Big Bad Wolf is an adult woman and the kids are kids, but... huh, and then later this pays off or is supposed to with the daughter in a scene in the woods). Strick also is addicted to grandiose over-head shots, but without much purpose; this was his first feature and in this, the big technical maneuvers - perhaps he was taking a cue from Scorsese in some part, being the writer on Cape Fear 91 - he shows he's still trying to learn on the job and falling flat in this area.
But with actors he's much stronger. If you like Carradine and like all the more to see him being an unapologetic scumbag, then this is a movie for you and then some (watch when he kicks the vending machine after the other guy next to him won't kick it, as the first guy says, "Yeah, I can't, I'm a prosecutor," to then Carradine's response after kicking it hard, "It's alright, I'm a felon - see ya, counselor"), and Hannah too has a lot of great scenes where she doesn't have to do much to get under your skin while at the same time having a small piece of vulnerability to her. She's like the more messed-up, grotty cousin of Nicole Kidman here or something, and a moment where she tries to get her daughter back, as coolly as she can, from a school recess, is amazing.
Kelly and Spano may not have as entertaining roles, but they do a commendable job and actually make this Good-Parent-Couple have personality. Strick lets them be real people for a moment or two, like an awkward sex scene (yeah, for some reason the door's open so if the little girl wanted she could totally look in) where the main concern is the squealing bed-springs. And all the while there's the little girl Janie (Julia Devin); I wasn't sure at times how the filmmakers intended her to be presented as a screwed-up and victim of abuse and trauma; she cuts herself at times and then at others lashes out at people. I would've liked to see just another piece, or more than one to give some more context outside of the opening of the film for how Janie got this way. The writing for her gets a little better near the end - planting and payoffs, yey - but I also wondered if her placid expression for much of the film was a way to make it easier on directing her. Who knows! The Ties That Bind is really dumb for much of its run-time, and I think it knows it. It gets by on throwing together the trashiest parts of its genres, of familial dyfunctions on both ends, and while Carradine and Hannah may be acting at times in another movie than Kelly and Spano, the results don't feel too uneven to me. Not art, but a guilty pleasure about what it means to be a parent, a child, and a member of society.
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