Friday, August 05, 2011

Take On The Whole Goddamn Government

James Caan’s only film as a director is an earnest adaptation of Leslie Waller’s non-fiction book about a blue-collar worker who spends eight years looking for his children. HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT is a promising directorial debut, and it’s a shame Caan stopped at one (his actor son Scott of HAWAII FIVE-0 has directed two features).

Caan, who made this between COMES A HORSEMAN and CHAPTER TWO, plays Tom Hacklin, a Buffalo, New York factory worker who loses contact with his children when his ex-wife (Barbara Rae) and her mobster husband (Robert Viharo) are relocated by the Federal Witness Protection Program. The U.S. Government gives Hacklin the runaround when he attempts to uncover his kids’ whereabouts, so, supported by his new wife (Jill Eikenberry) and his well-meaning lawyer (Danny Aiello), he determines to find them himself.

This is the sort of material, as written by Spencer Eastman (KANSAS), that usually plays like a made-for-TV movie, but a passionate performance by Caan and a fascinating subject elevate HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT to the level of good solid drama. As a director, Caan favors long master and medium shots that allow for greater realism in the storytelling. His and cinematographer Paul Lohmann’s (SILENT MOVIE) naturalistic approach and widescreen camerawork are like peering through a window into Tom Hacklin’s life. An opening three-and-a-half-minute crane shot adds nothing to the plot, but nicely sets up the film’s atmosphere and introduces us to Hacklin’s hard-working background.

Where HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT lapses is in its telescoping of actual events from eight years to less than two. I understand why Caan and Eastman felt they had to make the true story more cinematic (including the addition of climactic violence that never happened to the real guy), but the downside is that the movie’s episodic nature drains some of the suspense and obscures a few important plot points. I don’t think it’s a serious problem, and Caan’s directorial debut does more things right than wrong. Leonard Rosenmann composed a sparse score, though not sparse enough for the director, who thought music would interfere with the movie’s verite approach and opposed MGM’s edict to include it.

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