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Fly Away Home  

Starring: Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delany, Terry Kinney Directed by: Carroll Ballard Written by: Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin Rated PG Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Beauty is simple. I don't believe there is such a thing as complex beauty. Thus, appreciating true beauty can only be done on the most simplistic level as well. To fully appreciate something beautiful, your mind cannot be filled with any other thoughts or concerns; you have to be completely focused on what you find beautiful. Appreciating Nature's beauty is the same way. If you live in the hustle and bustle of the city and want to "get away from it" for a while, you can take a trip out into the country, but if you don't "free your mind" from all your other concerns and worries, then you most likely won't be able to allow the beautiful and peaceful surroundings to encompass you and calm you. It takes a mental effort in addition to a simple change of scenery.

The reason I say this is to try and express why I think Carroll Ballard's films work. He's made several films dealing with nature's beauty, including "The Black Stallion" and "Never Cry Wolf". He does a couple of things very well. First, he works closely with his cinematographers to create some of the most breathtaking shots imaginable. But he is also careful to not let too much plot get in the way of what is on screen. Take the plot developments in the opening scene in his latest film "Fly Away Home": it shows a woman and her daughter driving at night in a harsh rainstorm. They have an accident, and the mother ends up dead. So, the daughter (Anna Paquin) has to live with her father (Jeff Daniels) on a farm in Canada. Now, this setup can go in a number of different directions, but Ballard doesn't focus on the familial relationships so much that it gets in the way of what the movie is really about, which is a young girl's taking to the skies to show a flock of geese how to migrate south for the winter.

A different director might have taken this material and tried to focus on the relationships and turn it into a big-screen soap opera. Ballard is smarter than that. He doesn't pile on the sentiment, as the previews for the movie might make you think. Instead, he gives us some amazing shots from the skies showing young Amy leading the geese south. We get TONS of shots like this, and that's exactly what we SHOULD get. That's why the movie works.

The performances work, too. Particularly Jeff Daniels as Amy's eccentric father. Daniels' is a truly underrated actor. His body of work ranges from the dramatic ("Terms of Endearment", "Gettysburg") to the action-packed ("Speed") to the suspenseful ("Arachnophobia") to the utterly outrageous ("Dumb and Dumber"). Here he plays a man who is a true dreamer; a man who decided to make an exact replica of the Lunar Lander, seeing as though "the original was left on the moon", he explains. But he's careful to not let his character turn into a buffoon. He gives him a low-key credibility, which is necessary for his character to work. Anna Paquin is good, too, following up her Oscar-winning performance in "The Piano". She exudes a kind of willful tenacity which gives the film its strength. And then there are those spectacular shots showing her incredible journey through the skies.

Watching "Fly Away Home", one might very well be reminded of the tragedy of young Jessica Dubosse, whose plane went down shortly after takeoff in a harsh thunderstorm, killing her, her instructor, and her father. I don't know if that will get in the way of people's enjoyment of this movie, but the film has an interesting way of dealing with that subject. Amy and her father lead the geese south, so the geese will not have their wings clipped and rendered flightless. In a way, that kind of parallels the issue of young children following their dreams - adults should love them, protect them, support them, guide them, help them up when they fall, and show them the way. But they mustn't "clip their wings" - children will need them to reach for their dreams.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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