Review of Main Street

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A contemporary drama film about several residents of Durham, North Carolina, who see their lives changed after the arrival of a stranger with a controversial plan to save their decaying hometown. Starring Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, Patricia Clarkson & Amber Tamblyn.
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Movie Review: "Main Street"

-- Rating: PG
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2012
Directed by: John Doyle
Genre: Drama

Not all plotlines can stand the test of time, and this movie suffers from a horribly outdated plot that keeps its otherwise excellent acting and direction from rising to the top.

The movie follows in the footsteps of many similar films that introduce a bad man, in this case played by a Texan tycoon named Gus Leroy (Colin Firth), who has a bad plan to use the goodwill and down luck of the residents of a city to allow him to store toxic waste in a leased space inside the city limits. The film takes all of the standard twists and turns until the villain has a change of heart, leading to an outcome that is as ultimately predictable as the initial setup itself. The presence of many A-list actors delivering skilled performances keeps the movie from falling to the bottom of the barrel, but just barely.

The acting by Firth, Ellen Burstyn as Georgiana Carr and Orlando Bloom as Harris Parker elevates the film beyond the clich├ęs that the storyline seems to embrace. Georgiana Carr is a real southern belle, and Burstyn's portrayal is top-notch. The drama experienced by the character comes through in her mannerisms and almost over-the-top emotional struggles in spite of the actual words she delivers from the script. This is another Harris Parker appearing lifelike, a testament to Bloom's ability to portray many different characters from different backgrounds. His and Firth's accents are spot-on for two Englishmen attempting to portray a North Carolinian and a Texan respectively. The film's solid direction shines through whenever these three characters come together and give a kick to the otherwise slow pace of the film.

The scenes are set elegantly in a believable Southern town, and the filmography borrows heavily from such icons as "Driving Miss Daisy." Everywhere you look, you can find signs that the setting was once a beautiful neighborhood that has begun to lapse into decay due to the hard conditions of life there. The visuals jump out at you and tell a story far more intricate and interesting than what seems to be the focus of the film. Whenever the plot of the film intrudes on the scenery, it is usually to slap viewers with a heavy-handed moral regarding nuclear waste or profit mongering.

This is all due to the apparent lackluster writing of Horton Foote. The writer is famous for his work on the screenplay version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies," which tackled real, relevant issues without putting too fine a point on his own beliefs or showing a form of political evangelism. It is simply not the same case with "Main Street," where every line feels as though it was delivered from a political viewpoint instead of that of the character uttering it. Names like Gus Leroy don't help matters, and the plot and characters quickly fall into a series of tropes instead of believable circumstances and personalities to whom the audience can relate.

The movie's pacing is very slow whenever two or fewer of the movie's main characters take the stage. The only other character who seems to stand out in the crowd is Willa Jenkins (Patricia Clarkston), another horribly stereotypical name choice. The portrayal of Willa by Clarkston elevates the character and allows her to steal the spotlight on more than one occasion where it seems that others in the scene should be taking the lead. This seems to be less an intentional move on the part of the character and more of a sheer force of personality from Ms. Clarkston.

Taken in total, the movie is unlikely to appeal to fans of the writer's earlier masterpieces or the many top actors that it has engaged. No doubt the promise of the movie attracted so many talented actors and a talented director, and the previous work of Mr. Foote has been top-notch. It is very hard to become invested in characters when you know their every next move, especially when the move appears to originate from a series of tropes instead of real character motivation. The townsfolk, outside of the four previously mentioned characters, seem almost completely uninterested and unmotivated unless roused, and the ultimate heel-turn of Gus Leroy provides a less-than-satisfying conclusion to the film. It steps around everything set up earlier in the film to provide what feels like a manufactured happy ending instead of a real resolution.

"Main Street" has all the hallmarks of a made-for-television film. It may make an interesting addition to someone's DVD collection of his or her favorite stars, but it delivers a lackluster experience overall.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars