Review: 'Rails and Ties' on the wrong track

Any melodrama whose dying protagonist quotes Dylan Thomas' “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” isn't glory-bound, and that's just one of countless examples of the drippy-mindedness of “Rails and Ties,” Alison Eastwood's directorial debut. The movie's a contrived fizzler.

Eastwood, for anyone wondering, is indeed the offspring of you know who, but whatever talent genes she possesses can't shine in the absence of credible story material. Here, she navigates 148 minutes of slush, courtesy of, foremost, screenwriter Micky Levy. The pair entwine two tragedies but can't inspire us to buy the immensely improbable results.

Megan (Marcia Gay Harden), a nurse, has terminal cancer, and her rail-engineer husband, Tom (Kevin Bacon), immerses himself in train work to avoid thinking about her fate. The couple's shakeup begins when Tom's train hits a car that a suicidal woman has parked on the tracks. The accident makes the woman's 11-year-old son, Davey (Miles Heizer), an orphan.

Davey shows up at Tom and Megan's Southern California home, and, after briefly unleashing his anger on Tom (whom he blames for his mother's death), he starts bonding and living with the couple. His presence rejuvenates Megan and Tom's strained relationship. But as Megan gets sicker, Davey must deal with losing the second mother figure in his life.

Eastwood displays a no-nonsense style that may or may not come from her father, and, in the early scenes, as she shows us Tom's life on the rails and introduces Megan's illness, the film appears as if it might become an affecting look at people struggling with real issues such as sickness and disappointment.

But then Levy's screenplay kicks in, and Eastwood can't find a reality groove. The premise of Tom and Megan becoming parental figures to a boy whose mother Tom's train has killed (a scenario that, among other things, could get the suspended-from-work Tom fired) comes off as ridiculous. The cliches — a childless couple with an enormous void to fill; a cute orphan boy with — ditto; a horrid foster mother; Megan's Dylan Thomas bit æ are sorrier still.

All of which totals a film too shallow to succeed as a Susanne Bier-style domestic drama and too flat to triumph as a cheaper brand of hankie flick. It also wastes Bacon and Harden, who are sharp as the emotionally shuttered Tom and the open-hearted Megan. Heizer, meanwhile, emotes impressively for a 12-year-old, but for naught.

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