Judge Ian Visser has himself recently returned home after a seventeen-year absence, but only because he got on the wrong ramp to the I-85.
Carry on, my wayward son…
What could have been an insightful and moving film disappoints with directorial negligence and poor vision.
Facts of the Case
Jake (Scott Cooper, Gods and Generals) is a young man with a past. As a teenager, he watched his father gun down his best friend Marco (Craig Sheffer, A River Runs Through It) during an attempted robbery. now, seventeen years later, jake has returned to san francisco to confront his past and perhaps make a new future.
Jake keeps his return home a secret, avoiding his father and spying on his alcoholic mother (Theresa Russell, Black Widow). Eventually Jake falls into a relationship with his new landlord, the lovely Catherine (Gabrielle Anwar, Scent of a Woman), a single mother of two children. Jake must balance his new life with his past, while trying to put old demons to rest.
There's nothing unique or insightful in Water Under the Bridge. The story of the prodigal son returning home after a long period of time to confront old ghosts is almost as common in cinema as the road movie. And, much like that genre, it has been done many times before and to better effect.
Clark Brigham is the first-time writer and director on this effort (initially released in 2003 with the title Save It For Later), and his inexperience shows. Plot lines are created and dropped at random, characters have poor or no motivation, and relationships are unrealistic or downright ridiculous. Brigham simply seems to have gotten lost in the material; nothing clicks, and the pieces end up being stuck together in a haphazard and disorienting manner.
There are a number of sub-plots created, only to be dropped or left with no resolution. Jake reunites with two friends from childhood, and they spend a lot of time together drinking and rehashing the past. The problem is, these scenes have no bearing on plot or character, and eventually these friends simply disappear as the movie progresses. There's no indication why these friends are important to Jake, or why he would reunite with them after seventeen years. Another sub-plot, involving Jake sleeping with his boss, ends as quickly as it begins, again with no impact or consequence on the story.
No indication is given why Jake has returned to San Francisco at this time, what his motivations are, and where he has been. What happens to a kid that runs away from home at the age of fourteen? Where does he go? Considering that Jake seems to be in no hurry to reconnect with his mother, father, or old friends, it's hard to fathom what reason he has for returning home.
Almost all of the relationships in the film are handled badly. Wouldn't Jake's mother be upset if he hadn't called or written in seventeen years, and then simply showed up on her doorstep? Wouldn't she have gone crazy with worry, or resent him? Yet she calmly welcomes Jake back into her life as if there had been no separation. There's no indication why someone like Catherine, who clearly considers Jake to be a risk, would begin a relationship with a barely employed painter who drinks and parties all night ten feet away from her kids. And although the thrust of the story seems to be Jake's coming-to-terms with what his father did, Jake only attempts one meeting with his father in the entire film, and he never manages to achieve any type of closure over the incident that occurred years before. Indeed, Jake and his father never actually talk about the incident, so it is difficult to understand why Jake is so content at the movie's conclusion.
It is this conclusion that is the most perplexing. After their earlier confrontation, Jake's father seems to suffer a heart attack. I say "seems," because we never see the result of this affliction, until the final moments when Jake appears at his father's bedside to watch him die. It's almost thirty minutes of screen time between the heart attack and the final scene, and no mention is made anywhere about the illness. Instead, we get a quick reunion with the mother, and a "happily ever after" moment with Gabrielle and her children.
The majority of performances in Water Under the Bridge never approach anything substantial. As a tough-guy loner, Scott Cooper seems to be doing his best Ethan Hawke imitation. He is never convincing as someone who has been deeply scarred by a childhood event. Theresa Russell has done fine work in the past, but has almost nothing to do as a mother who displays no signs of actually being an alcoholic. The only standout is Gabrielle Anwar. She does her best with the material, and you can see her straining to make more out of what she has been given. Based on her performance, I would have been more interested in seeing a movie about her struggles as a single mom with two kids. It's never good news when a supporting character is more appealing than the lead—and a better actor, too.
The widescreen video presentation of Water Under the Bridge leaves much to be desired. For something claiming to be an anamorphic transfer, it is far from acceptable. Numerous flecks and spots are visible throughout the film, and the whole picture has a soft, fuzzy look to it. The audio is balanced and clear, employing a six-channel Dolby Digital track that does its job well.
In the special features department, viewers get a trailer and a "Behind the Scenes" featurette. The featurette is fairly in-depth, and goes beyond the traditional inside look by interviewing actors, crew, and the writer-director on set. If nothing else, everyone seemed to be having a good time during the making of the film.
Water Under the Bridge does nothing original, and it does it poorly. I cannot recommend the film as even a rental, since there are many better examples of the genre available for consumers.
Guilty. Gabrielle Anwar is released on her own recognizance and ordered to choose better projects in the future.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical trailer
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