Judge Amanda DeWees says this World War II romance with Russell Crowe is fair dinkum, mate.
"Grab ahold of the moment and live it. After all, at the end of the day, that's what it amounts to, isn't it? A collection of moments."
Before Russell Crowe became a bona fide star with the release of L.A. Confidential and The Insider, he quietly paid his dues in any number of smaller movies, many of which, like For the Moment, flew under the general radar. Fortunately, Crowe's ascent to megastardom has brought at least one of these forgotten films out on DVD for us to enjoy belatedly. For the Moment is an attractive World War II romantic drama that showcases the young Crowe's charisma and also features a strong ensemble cast and an effective story.
Set in Manitoba, Canada, in 1942, For the Moment tells the story of a group of young fliers training to go to war and the townspeople whose lives they touch during their short stay at the flight school. Crowe plays Lachlan, a self-confident Australian pilot whose breezy grin only partially conceals a sensitive soul. When fellow trainee Johnny (Peter Outerbridge) introduces him to the pretty but married Lill (Christianne Hirt), Lachlan is attracted to her at once but tries to fight his feelings. Lill, for her part, is wary of Lachlan's charm; although she was married only a week before her husband left for combat two years ago, she's wise enough to know that she doesn't want a wartime fling. Yet, despite the best intentions of both, they find themselves spending more and more time together, until their lives are irrevocably intertwined—and irrevocably changed.
Lill and Lachlan's love story is contrasted with that of Zeek, an instructor in the flight school, and Betsy, the warm, down-to-earth local woman who supports herself and her two children in her husband's absence by providing liquor and other, more intimate comforts to the young pilots. Zeek and Betsy are older and more experienced in the ways of the world; their relationship is a comfortable, almost domestic one, except for the complications of Betsy's history. A third romance, between Johnny and Lill's sister, Kate, presents a pair of idealistic, impetuous lovers, ready to marry even though they will be parted in a few days, perhaps forever.
All three of these couples experience the hardships peculiar to love in wartime: The women will ultimately be left alone again in their small community with the consequences of these liaisons while their lovers fly off, perhaps never to return. Stories like For the Moment offer a thoughtful counterpart to films about combat in their focus on those left behind and the difficulties they face—both emotional and practical—in trying to keep life jogging along as normally as possible when the young men go off to fight. I was pleased to see that the movie didn't cling to the usual clichés; on several occasions I resigned myself to the certainty that a scene was going to unfold along all too familiar lines, only to be thoroughly surprised. Events that in a less intelligent film would lead to shouting, weeping, and hysterical accusations are treated with perception and understanding, as when two women realize they have shared the same lover and experience a quiet moment of mutual understanding instead of hurling recrimination at each other.
On the negative side, some plot threads feel as if they are simply abandoned, and the ending of the film does leave a good many characters in suspense, or even adrift. This is almost a necessity of the film, though: Since this story is not about war but about a few weeks stolen out of it, we, like the townspeople left behind, can only watch the fliers go off to combat, knowing that the stories they have taken part in will hang in the balance until battle determines their fate.
The actors almost uniformly give natural, believable performances, although some of the smaller roles tend toward stock characterizations. Crowe is excellent as Lachlan, proving that even years before he became a box-office sensation he could anchor a film. His Lachlan could easily have been a mere stock character, the cocky young flier who learns some tough lessons about life and love (Top Gun, anyone?), but Crowe creates a character more complex, believable, and thoughtful, a man we quickly grow to care about. (It's also great fun to hear Crowe speak in his own accent for once—and even use Australian slang.) Lachlan's growing maturity through the film is poignant, as is the way he handles delicate emotional situations. His female lead turns in an equally fine performance: Christianne Hirt easily holds her own with the future superstar, bringing humor, intelligence, and strength of character to the role of Lill. The two have an unforced chemistry together, an easiness in each other's company that makes them perfectly believable as two people falling in love. Both in the lighter moments of their sparring courtship and in the painful instances when they acknowledge how ephemeral their time is together, the two actors complement each other handsomely. As Betsy, Wanda Cannon is another standout, presenting us with a woman whom experience has not made bitter, although it has worn away some of her gloss. Capable of genuine affection toward the young men she takes to her bed, she's nevertheless worldly-wise enough to know that love, even Zeek's, doesn't wipe away the past or guarantee the future.
In one of those instances in which a relatively small budget works to a film's advantage, For the Moment benefits from the absence of the too-perfect slickness of many period films. Instead, the look of the production design is more natural and understated, as befits the rural setting. The cinematography, however, is nothing short of gorgeous, from the opening scenes of a biplane soaring in the clouds accompanied by the strains of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" to the vistas of golden fields of grain. I'm always pleased to see older, obscure movies get a widescreen presentation, and in this case it is particularly effective in capturing the panoramic views of the lovely Canadian countryside. The verdant landscapes and the warm, sunny color palette enhance the sense of the story as an idyll, a brief golden interval amid the dark uncertainty of war.
The musical score is good by and large, although the ubiquitous "Canon" has lost a great deal of its dramatic impact for me through repetition and will probably sound like nothing more than wedding music to many viewers. The big band selections sound sensational in the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and enhance the atmosphere of euphoria among the young men and women who are busy seizing the day. Unfortunately, at other times the score is too emotionally heavy-handed; scenes that would play more effectively against silence, or at least a more restrained accompaniment, end up being pushed over the top by music that insists too much. Nevertheless, audio throughout is beautifully clear and makes dramatic use of surround sound, which is especially effective during scenes in which the pilots take to the air.
For the Moment is a relatively modest film, looking not at wartime heroism among soldiers but at the small personal tragedies and victories of individuals on the home front. There's not even much focus on the men's flight training and experiences, since their personal lives are the point. Perhaps because its scope is modest and it doesn't strain for epic status, For the Moment is both appealing and moving. Those who prefer wartime dramas to focus on combat or to be gritty and unsparing in their realism will probably not find themselves in sympathy with it, but for fans of bittersweet romance with a breath of nostalgia, this film will come as an agreeable discovery. Since extras include only the original trailer and a trailer for Crowe's Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the film's packaging is just as modest as its ambition, but it's a worthwhile addition to a collection of Crowe's diverse body of work.
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