‘It’s not a pole, it’s a rod…it’s not like playing with your goddam phone…’ explains Vietnam vet Ike Hendrickson (Brian Cox) as he tutors us in the world of fly-fishing; Joshua Caldwell’s earnest, effective drama is keen to make the same kind of differentiation. As the title suggests, Mending The Line is a film about the pursuit of fishing, or specifically pursuing escaping fish, but it’s also a story of recovery that does well to dodge the expected clichés of PTSD cinema and make a few well-grounded points about how we build and rebuild ourselves.
‘More great literature has been written about fly fishing than any other sport,’ intones Cox, but that’s no immediate help to the younger Colter (Sinqua Walls), who has returned from Afghanistan with considerable mental and physical damage. Unable to go back to his military position, even if he was deemed fit for purpose, Colter suffers through group discussions that cause him anxiety and don’t help him deal with his own trauma. Meanwhile, aging fly-fisher Hendrickson needs a partner to help him continue his beloved pastime; under the watchful eye of a caring doctor (Patricia Heaton), the two men begin to bond…
Although Mending the Line begins with a horrific scene of combat, this is a film that’s unexpectedly gentle at heart, with most of the film concerning the blossoming relationship between two tough, damaged men. Cox is ideal casting for a substantial turn as the gruff vet, a man so set in his ways that, as one character observes, ‘he hasn’t listened to music since Creedence broke up in 72.’ Walls does well with an equally complex role, wrestling with his guilt over events which he truly had zero control over; ‘I wasn’t punished so I punished myself’ he admonishes himself unfairly.
Written by Stephen Camelio, Mending the Line also takes time to explore the Montana community that forms a calming background here; Wes Studi and Perry Matfield both excel as locals who are explored in far more depth than is customary. At over two hours long, Caldwell’s film is a meditative piece, jammed with awards-ready acting but also making a firm point; Hendrickson teaches Colter to throw their catch back into the river with the terse remark ‘I’ve done enough killing’. Without being exploitative of veterans issues, Mending the Line is a careful, thoughtful look at the effects of PTSD that also manages to make wider points about how we heal; it’s an accomplished, emotionally honest movie that deserves a wide audience. And for Cox, executive producing here, it’s another top drawer performance to sit alongside his steller work in films like Hidden Agenda (1990) and in L.I.E. (2001).
Mending The Line had its world premiere as the Opening Night Film the Woodstock Film Festival on Sept 29th 2022, and screens again tomorrow (Friday) at 1pm at the Rosendale Theatre. I’ll post fuller release informaton as and when it becomes available.