Good people do bad things. Desperation is a powerful demon. It can shadow you like a grubby drug dealer, enticing you with the narcotic of better things ahead. Just take this one hit. You just need to do this wrong thing once, then you will vomit it out and purge your system and you will be you again. You are not going to wound the innocent. This will just be a pin prick to the chubby fingers of the puppet masters . They might get a few drops of blood on the crisp one hundred dollar bills they are always counting. Maybe it’s about time it is their blood and not yours. They made you do this anyway. Those hidden people who control people’s lives from spacious rooms filled with mahogany furniture and expensive cigar smoke. You’re just trying to sling hash in a cafeteria filled with IBM automatons. What the fuck is a “following day” anyway? Just like the government, “they” are always inventing ways to take that extra dollar out of your shabby wallet. How much longer can you stay on your buddy’s couch anyway? Nothing kills a friendship quicker and more violently than close quarters. You just need a little extra bread to get back on those tired feet of yours.
Armed robbery sounds much worse than it is, especially if you had no intention of hurting anyone.
Tom Gilroy’s Spring Forward is a wonderful film about the close friendship that develops between two men who work for the parks department in a Connecticut town. It is insightful, funny, touching and a little bit heartbreaking. These are feelings that most on the planet can understand. If you are a pot-bellied construction worker in Peoria or a windburned gaucho in Patagonia, you will be able to understand the bond that grows like the roots of an oak tree between these two men. With the changing seasons as a backdrop, we see the relationship of these two sprout up organically. Casual conversation about all manner of subjects is the initial tie that binds. The plot unfolds with the urgency of an old married couple sipping lemonade on their front porch. This is a nice counterbalance to everyone overloaded with fast moving images and jump cuts that would make a coked up breakdancer seem like a slug slithering across the sidewalk.
Liev Schreiber plays Paul, an ex-con on parole who gets a job with the town, doing outdoor work in parks and along roadsides. On a sunny spring morning, we meet him on the first day of his job, sporting an earring and facial hair that makes one think of Lemmy Kilmister scratching out the vocals to Ace of Spades. Paul is a little rough around the edges. The prep schools of Greenwich were a galaxy away to him. He figured he could get all the education he needed by reading. This is not a bad idea. Unfortunately, those who run society prefer to keep us in the abattoir that is our educational system, public or private. Those who don’t want to be cattle, going through life with their head shoved up another’s stinking ass until we get ground into chop meat at the end of the journey, are shunned by the enlightened. The enlightened seem to do much shunning. It must be good sport. Cricket on Monday, shunning on Tuesday, polo on Wednesday, shunning on Thursday, tennis and cocktails at the University club on Friday.
Still a young man, Paul also is one of those guys that can’t keep his mouth shut. Anytime he detects the slightest injustice, he feels the need to speak his mind about it. This can be an admirable trait. Although, it is not always one that will endear you to society. This movie was made before social media became the outlet of dissent for those railing against social injustice, either real or perceived. Paul was not able to get on his smartphone and tweet out his displeasure at someone he thought was not treating someone in a fair manner. Paul could not become one of today’s passive aggressive protesters, expressing their rage from their living room couch behind an ironic Twitter handle. Paul had to get in the face of that person and give them a piece of his opinionated mind. One would gather Paul may have given a few black eyes and lost a few teeth to a disagreeing fist in his lifetime.
This behavior leads to some hair pulling and refereeing for his partner, Murph, played by the great Ned Beatty. Murph is a man nearing retirement. Murph is that guy that we all probably have in our hometown. He is a man that everyone knows and respects. He is kind and he doesn’t judge Paul, who he learns did a stretch for armed robbery. However, he is not beyond sternly chastising Paul for his liberal use of the “F” word. Murph will also be defensive as he tends to dismiss some of Paul’s views on the world that he has adopted from the books he reads. These conversations are funny and realistic. It is how we learn about these men and what makes them tick. The dialogue has the feel that it has been written for the theater. It chugs ahead like a gas powered lawnmower. The words seem like they were built from a blueprint that is laying on a drafting table. This is not a knock, however. The screenplay is very eloquent and intelligent. It is just that, in a movie with no action, the dialogue sometimes has to be more rigid to move things along.
What is refreshing about Spring Forward is that the two men do not start off hating each other. They are simply different. They are completely unknown to each other and watching them bump heads here and there until they find common ground is a wonderful thing to behold. They will never be the same, or believe in the same things. That doesn’t prevent them from becoming as tight as the twine they use to bundle broken branches up in. These simple relationships between two people happen all the time on earth. Differences be damned. One could wish that political groups and nations would behave more like this. That is wishful and naive thinking however. Just like life having a happy ending for most of us is. Spring Forward shows us this kind of finality, as well. Again, all through words.
Both Beatty and Schreiber are great in their roles. They do the bulk of the heavy lifting as they are both nearly in every scene of the movie. A few familiar faces show up for a scene here and there, so we can learn more about the two leads. Peri Gilpin is well cast as a kind woman who may or may not become a love interest for Paul. Campbell Scott is excellent as the shithead son of a local politician. Watching this entitled prick giving Paul and Murph a hard time while trying to make himself sound helpful gives the audience the urge to smack the smirk off Scott’s face and make him have to pick it up in the woods. While rummaging for his bruised smirk among the trees, we hope that perhaps he meets the same fate as a character Beatty played earlier in his career while vacationing in the woodlands. The great, folksy score to Spring Forward may have even contained a banjo twang scattered throughout.
If you had to spend two hours stuck on the tarmac with Paul and Murph, you would come away liking them. You may also learn something. One would hope that watching this excellent movie would give us the pleasant feeling of time well spent with a good story and characters.