Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, meaning it’s time for another fuzzy, lovingly shot Hallmark Hall of Fame production — in this case, one with a dollop of Mitch Albom sentimentality as well as a strong central performance from Chris Klein. Based on Terry Kay’s novel, the greeting-card outfit’s 229th presentation telegraphs its payoff, but given the dearth of broadcast TV movies in general and such warm-hearted fare in particular, it’s still a welcome breather from CBS’ Sunday procedurals in the midst of a three-week hiatus bookended by playoff football.
Awash in cliches, Noah (Klein) returns from serving in World War II to find the farm lost, his parents dead and his younger brother in prison. Roaming the woods, he meets a kindly old coot (Robert Prosky) who says he has a gift for “seein’ the other side” and directs him to the idyllic Valley of Light, where Noah’s skills as a fisherman soon win him attention from the townsfolk.
Among the residents drawn into Noah’s orbit are Eleanor (Gretchen Mol), a lonely young widow; and Matthew (Zach Gills), a mute boy he befriends. It’s an “Aw, shucks” kind of town filled with “awfully nice people,” but despite the palpable bond between Noah and Eleanor, it will take only one tragedy to potentially compel him to continue his vagabond ways, depriving them the serenity and companionship for which they clearly pine.
For anyone who laments that they don’t make ’em like they used to, this is an old-fashioned throwback and then some, down to Eric Van Haren Noman’s lovely lakefront images, the Mayberry-like characters who fill the town and the legendary bass in the local waters. It’s to the credit of director Brent Shields (in his fifth turn as Hallmark helmsman), writer Camille Thomasson and the fine cast that they wring as much mileage as they do out of this slight exercise, though this ultimately feels more like a “Twilight Zone” episode than a movie-length premise.
Then again, Hallmark’s recent history has hewn closely to such innocuous but meticulously crafted fare, offering a tranquil counterpart to the crime wave that has washed over CBS — sweeping away its Sunday movie in the process. Walking through “The Valley of Light,” by contrast, there is relatively little evil to fear, and it’s only of the soft-focus variety.