Directed by Michael McGowan
Written by Michael McGowan
James Cromwell is the kind of actor who has looked, for a long time, perpetually wizened; he is a man who lived a full life before he stepped in front of the cameras. That elderly, grandfatherly quality is put to good use in the Canadian drama Still Mine, a patient and relaxed adaptation of a true story of a long-time married couple who run into government red tape despite having the best of intentions. Still Mine relies less on an excess of plot than on its performers feeling like real people, the relationships long since established, and does so adequately.
Cromwell is Craig Morrison, an 88-year old living comfortably enough on roughly 2,000 acres of land in New Brunswick with his wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold), who’s beginning to suffer serious symptoms of Alzheimer’s, specifically a creeping sense of dementia. As her health worsens and she has a few physical mishaps, Craig decides it’s better for he and Irene to live in a slightly smaller, single-story house that he’ll build elsewhere on their land, using his late father’s expertise as a shipbuilder to guide him. Problems arise almost instantly due to fairly labyrinthine and nonsensical Canadian building codes, and even after he tries to alleviate the issues, Craig finds himself at odds with the bureaucracy, all the way to being brought to court.
The level of red tape that Craig and his lawyer (Campbell Scott) have to wade through is somewhat silly, to the point where Still Mine crosses into the maddening world of truth being stranger than fiction. Most totally fictional movies could not get away with the number of obstacles Craig has to clear, simply because the government employees he faces off with are so comically unsympathetic and uncaring; how could such people not melt even slightly at Craig’s extremely good intentions and his undying love for his wife? Early on, Craig’s gruff demeanor could be seen as cold to the main bureaucrat with whom he clashes (Jonathan Potts), but once we get his lawyer explicating to the government exactly how much he’s done to avoid receiving work stoppage orders and they still stonewall him, even a devil’s-advocate argument in the government’s favor goes out the window.
Again, the story details are less important to Still Mine writer-director Michael McGowan than in reveling in the easygoing, familiar chemistry between Cromwell and Bujold, and in just letting Cromwell act gruffly for 100 minutes. It’s a bit surprising that he’s had so few lead roles, what with his generally commanding presence. And it’s not just that James Cromwell is a tall man, his Craig hovering more than a foot over Bujold, a gentle giant trying desperately to do right by the woman who’s slowly evaporating in front of his eyes. Cromwell has a folksy, unforced charm, well utilized throughout Still Mine, in a role that could come off as an example of an actor trying too hard to be “real.” Considering that Cromwell is 15 years younger than the person he’s playing, that could’ve been a challenge. However, even though he doesn’t have any discernible old-age makeup to make himself look closer to 90 than 70, Cromwell carries the weight of a long life in every scene, Craig’s nearly nine decades of experience pushing down on him as much as the bureaucracy does.
The other advantage to Still Mine is that it’s populated with a lot of actors who look right for the small-town New Brunswick lifestyle. Bujold, younger than Cromwell in real life, does a solid job of capturing the vibrant, feisty woman Craig fell in love with as well as displaying how rapidly Irene’s personality is changing, forgetting where her house is at one point and not realizing the danger of sleeping in frigid weather in another, more disturbing sequence. Though she ends up having less to do, due to Irene’s medical problems, Bujold makes her half of the central marriage as full as Cromwell’s.
Still Mine is, if nothing else, an excellent reminder that James Cromwell is one of the great character actors of the last 30 years. Since he first claimed a modicum of stardom with his Oscar-nominated turn in Babe, Cromwell has been both a fearsome and kindly presence onscreen, yet it’s felt as though he hasn’t aged a day. He’s always looked old, a man who earned every wrinkle and line, whose war wounds and scars are beyond explanation. In Still Mine, he’s tapping more into a crotchety state of mind, but is as charming and brusque as he’s ever been. If only for James Cromwell and his naturalistic style of acting, Still Mine is a slight but sweet and worthy tale.
— Josh Spiegel