Following the lead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tommy Lee Jones and Goldie Hawn, Dennis Quaid uses TNT as the venue for his directorial debut on a pet project. “Everything That Rises” blends the rural splendor of the Western with the contemporary urgency of a telepic staple: the tragedy-of-the-week saga. The result is a well-acted, heartfelt TNT Original that gains emotional momentum as it moves forward. in his first shot out of the box, Quaid deserves credit for making a film less contrived than those of many veteran helmers.
He also stars and serves as an exec producer on the vidpic, taking Mark Spragg’s evocative teleplay and turning it into an earnest tearjerker blessed with sharp performances from Mare Winningham, youngster Ryan Merriman and especially by comeback kid Harve Presnell, who all but steals the film fight out from under Quaid’s broad shoulders.
Shot in the lush expanse of Livingston, Mont., the telefilm features Quaid as Jim Clay, a proud ranchowner living off land passed down through generations of his family who struggles to hold onto his parcels when big business interests move into the area and drive up prices. Winningham is his tough, devoted wife, Kyle, and together they raise their young adolescent son Nathan.
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Nathan wants nothing more than to become a cow-roping rodeo superstar like his glum, emotionally inert daddy. But that dream comes crashing to a halt when he’s rendered a paraplegic in an auto accident caused by his father.
The film takes an obvious U-turn right about here to become more of a father-son bonding saga, with Presnell adding a crucial assist as longtime family friend Garth (showing he can do the aging cowpoke routine as well as Jack Palance).
There is an aching eloquence to Quaid’s initial devastation at his son’s condition, his clashing with his wife and the slow release of tenderness and compassion from a man who had taken the concept of tough-love to new extremes.
Where “Everything That Rises” falls down somewhat is in the muted response of Nathan (though Merriman is a game, passionate actor). Here is a kid who knows he’ll never walk again, yet aside from a few tears, he shrugs it off almost as a temporary setback. The anger and bitterness are missing, and so is anything approaching a genuine depiction of the physical rigors of paralysis — the messiness of it, and the awkward response of friends (his school chums are understanding in a way that belies their years).
Film also has to do some tap-dancing to find a happy ending to this edgy puzzle. But a poignancy emerges nonetheless, one built on a gentleness and stoicism that keeps it in the family film fold.
Quaid has wisely chosen a low-key approach and a simple premise for his first foray into directing, and despite some sappy vacations from reality, he largely succeeds.
“Everything That Rises” is beautifully filmed by Jack Conroy and his team. Other tech credits are first rate.