THE STORY – Returning to the Unites States, a wounded veteran develops a friendship with a headstrong fly fisherman and a talented photographer turned librarian.
THE CAST – Brian Cox, Perry Mattfeld, Sinqua Walls, Patricia Heaton & Wes Studi
THE TEAM – Joshua Caldwell (Director) & Stephen Camelio (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 122 Minutes
War and post-war films are nothing new, and the Western audience can expect to encounter these films at least once a year. After all, there are several important concepts and conflicts to depict within this storytelling arena: the ethics of war, post-traumatic stress disorder, how America treats its Veterans, rehabilitation into civilization, survivor’s guilt, and much more. Naturally, with all types of sub-genres and film trends, there tends to be fatigue, in which audiences learn the natural placement of plot points within a story. Now, while new installments of the sub-genre can be “repetitive” or familiar, that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t effective as a whole piece.
“Mending the Line” is one of this year’s post-war films that follows a very similar narrative structure to others of the sub-genre. Colter (Sinqua Walls) is a marine who has recently returned from Afghanistan as the sole survivor of his troop. He arrives in a small town in Montana that focuses on physical and mental health. Eager to return to the Marines, Walls works extremely hard in physical therapy but has trouble in group therapy when asked to talk about his experience. A couple of doors across the hall, Ike (Brian Cox) is visiting his doctor, who states that he can no longer go fly-fishing alone due to his worsening condition. After Ike leaves, Dr. Burke (Patricia Heaton) gives Colter Ike’s address and tells him to spend some time there. It’s a win-win for the doctor: Ike is now kept out of danger, and Colten has a one-on-one opportunity to begin his mental journey and acknowledge his PTSD.
Obviously, for the film to work, the audience must believe and form a solid relationship with Colter and Ike. And, in the spirit of these kinds of films, the pair doesn’t kick things off to a phenomenal start. Colter is just there to get a stamp of approval from the VA, and Ike is a stereotypical’ “grumpy old man.” He doesn’t want to talk to anyone, let anyone have anyone tell him what to do, and overall does not get along well with others. But, again, as is the nature of the film, the audience knows that he is only angry because he is sad and has built up those walls to protect himself from getting hurt again. Additionally, it is apparent from the first scene that fly-fishing is his love and his therapy; it is what makes his life worth living at the current moment. Once both characters lower their walls and allow each other into their worlds, a reluctant and heartwarming friendship forms between the two veterans.
But, this relationship unfortunately never reaches its full potential. In addition to Colter and Ike, there is Lucy (Perry Mattfeld), a young woman who quit her passion for photography to work at the local library and volunteer at the VA. She is clearly working through her own demons and quickly becomes Ike’s love interest. However, Lucy isn’t really treated like a supporting character or love interest; instead, she is more of a third lead. Colter, Ike, and Lucy have individual journeys and issues, but a decent amount of the film is dedicated to Lucy as her character takes away from the protagonist, Colter, and his relationship with Ike. This isn’t to say that Lucy doesn’t have a story worth telling or that Mattfeld isn’t providing a genuinely meaningful performance; instead, this film just isn’t Lucy’s story. So, dedicating a third of the film’s runtime to Lucy only slows the film down as a whole and doesn’t allow the audience to bond with Ike and Colter, which makes the third act not as effective as it wants to be.
Despite a long runtime and uneven script, “Mending the Line” is still incredibly heartwarming and a joy to watch. Bill Brown’s music wonderfully depicts the setting’s laid-back and tranquil atmosphere. This is also shown through Eve Cohen’s cinematography with wide shots of the characters fly fishing in the river functioning as some of the best cinematic images this year.
Audiences will know precisely what they are getting with “Mending the Line,” but it is still a delightful watch. While the film may not be adding anything new when discussing PTSD, rehabilitation, and adjusting to civilian life after a traumatic event, the message of finding a healthy avenue to stay grounded which will help one get through a difficult time, is always worth stating and celebrating.