In 1932, just months before the end of Prohibition, Quebec Bill Bonhomme (Kris Kristofferson), a grizzled farmer with an irrepressible daredevil streak, hopes to save his farm by smuggling Canadian whisky across the border. His 15 year old son, Wild Bill (Charlie McDermott) elects to go along at the behest of his aunt Cordelia (Genevieve Bujold). Father and son set off for Canada, with Quebec Bill's cautious, disapproving brother-in-law Henry (Gary Farmer) and hired man, Rat (William Sanderson), on a tense adventure involving a pair of monks, (Luis Guzman, John Griesemer) and Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau), a gang leader and whisky hijacker ...
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The silken threads of suggestion that inspire our imagination while reading a novel are stretched thin here in a movie adaptation from Mosher's book that operates - or attempts to - on two levels. On one level it's an adventure set in strikingly beautiful woods, lakes and rivers on the US-Canadian border, where father Bill (Kris Kristofferson) and son Bill (Charlie McDermott) take centre stage in a whisky smuggling caper in the dying days of prohibition in 1932. On this level, the film is a success, not least for the two central performances; Kristofferson is ideally cast as the rugged, adventure-loving rogue who returns to his bad old ways to make money for hay to save his farm animals.
Charlie McDermott is also splendid as the 15 year old boy along for the ride, whose common sense and law abiding nature get hauled across the rocks of disaster. Providing his usual high standard of work, Gary Farmer (memorable as Nobody co-starring with Johnny Depp as William Blake in Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man) is a gentle and likeable giant as the other force for reason trying, unsuccessfully, to hold Bill back.
At the start of the film, we meet Bill's aunt Cordelia (Genevieve Bujold), who talks his mother Evangeline (Heather Rea) into letting the boy accompany his father on the escapade. But we soon realise that Cordelia is one of the 'disappeared' characters referred to throughout as young Bill's ancestors. She comes and goes like a ghostly oracle, offering advice and guidance. This mystical or magic realist element is heightened by the film's most grotesque character, Carcajou, played by Lothair Bluteau, an actor whose intensity has hardly waned since his starring role in Jesus of Montreal. Carcajou, in regalia sprouting feathers and his bearded face half hidden, is the gang leader of a whisky smuggling ring, and when Bill takes a dozen cases from his forest hideout, Carcajou and his men set off after him. But in each of three encounters, Carcajou is seemingly killed, only to return until a final showdown that includes the mysterious Cordelia.
It's an ambitious work and shouldn't be too readily dismissed for its semi-successful foray into spirit-land. There is much else to enjoy and a wonderful terrain to discover.
Published: May 8, 2008
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DISAPPEARANCES: DVD (M)
CAST: Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, Rusty De Wees, Lothaire Bluteau, Charlie McDermott, Luis Guzman, Gary Farmer, John Griesemer, Munson Hicks, Heather Rea
PRODUCER: Jay Craven, Mark Donadio, Hathalee Higgs, Miriam Marcus, Lauren Moye
DIRECTOR: Jay Craven
SCRIPT: Jay Craven (novel by Howard Frank Mosher)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wolfgang Held
EDITOR: Beatrice Sisul
MUSIC: Jeff Claus, Judy Hyman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carl Sprague
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MRA Vision
DVD RELEASE: May 14, 2008