A sort of “Yanks” on the Canadian prairie, “For the Moment” is an appealing, nostalgic wartime romance that effectively evokes a specific time and place. Full of noble, fresh-scrubbed faces and manly, grace-under-pressure behavior, stately picture exemplifies an old-fashioned cinematic style that won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But older and, particularly, female audiences might respond to the tale’s poignance, and stardom-in-the-making lead performance from Russell Crowe could provide a good marketing peg with the right timing.
Set in Manitoba, 1942, yarn centers upon an ill-fated affair between a young married local woman and an Aussie pilot there to take part in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan of Canada, under which would-be flyers from many Allied nations hit Canada for short spells of training.
Crowe plays Lachlan, a handsome fellow whose understated self-confidence would be right at home in a Hemingway story. Between lectures and practice flights, Lachlan slowly cozies up to Lill (Christianne Hirt), a perky farm girl whose husband is already away at war.
In contrast to this discreet affair is Betsy (Wanda Cannon), a bootlegger with two kids who believes in charging for what a lot of other women give away. She eventually hooks up with Zeek (Scott Kraft), a dashing Yank flight instructor.
These and other little dramas are played out at a measured, occasionally indulgent pace by Winnipeg-based writer-director Aaron Kim Johnston, whose previous effort was the 1990 childhood memoir “The Last Winter.”
Few of the plot developments are particularly surprising, and a couple of them seem forced, particularly the arbitrary beating of a black recruit (who’s never seen again) and the one-dimensional villainy of some thugs who are dragged in just to create physical conflict once in a while. In general, Johnston could have developed some more imaginative interaction among the soldiers.
But for those who respond to love stories played out under pressurized, time-foreshortened circumstances, “For the Moment” has something to offer. Johnston displays a real feel for the land and for a principled way of life that makes his film resemble something that might have actually been made in the 1950 s rather than the 1990s.
Putting the film over most, however, is Crowe. Rugged and solid without seeming too overbearing, Crowe fashions a persona here that, as was often said about Clark Gable, may be equally appealing to men and women.
Hirt makes for a spunky, reasonably appealing partner, and has one dramatically devastating scene, which she plays entirely silent, in which she receives a dreaded telegram. Other perfs are decent but more emblematic than dimensional.
Pic boasts superior production values for its $ 2.8 million budget, notably Ian Elkin’s handsome lensing of the vast Canadian landscapes. Film world-premiered last fall in a longer version at the Vancouver Film Festival, where it won the audience prize for top Canadian feature, and debuted in shorter cut in Santa Barbara.