"Spin," a 1991 novel by Donald Everett Axinn, is now a film from James Redford, who adapted and directed the project.
Ryan Merriman and Paula Garces in "Spin." (Turtles Crossing)
Set in the 1950s, it deals with a boy's search for purpose after the death of his parents—as well as the feelings he develops for a Mexican-American girl in his town.
"Spin" will have a limited release Oct. 15, though it has been around for a year. It won the Crystal Heart Award at Indianapolis' Heartland Film Festival in 2003.
Ryan Merriman plays Eddie Haley, a young boy orphaned when his parents die in plane crash. Eddie is left to his Uncle Frank (omnipresent actor Stanley Tucci), but Frank has other plans. When Frank moves overseas, he doesn't take Eddie. He instead leaves him on the ranch under the care of foreman Ernesto (Ruben Blades) and his schoolteacher wife, Margaret (Dana Delany).
Eddie grows up under their care—and falls for a girl named Francesca Montoya, played gracefully by Paula Garces. Their relationship develops, even as it is stressed by the prejudice others direct toward Francesca and her father, who doesn't exactly provide a healthy home environment for his daughter.
Running through this coming-of-age drama is an aviation storyline. Eddies' father and Uncle Frank were pilots, and they kept several small planes on the ranch. Frank had promised Eddie's father he would teach Eddie to fly—but will the boy be interested?
Unless you're familiar with Axinn's book, you won't really know where the film is headed, and that's a good thing. It's nice to sail through a film unsure of the destination.
Merriman and Garces are evenly matched as actors, and they look good together on camera. Their relationship is believable. Less impressive, though, is the conveyance of motivation for some of the other characters.
One can feel the translation from novel to script, as the impetus for some of the action seems missing. For example, Ruben Blades is a terrific actor, but his reasons for behaving the way he does toward Margaret and Eddie are unexplained and unexplored.
The adaptation also rears its head through a choppy first act. We move a bit too quickly from one scene to another. But all is not lost.
At one point, Eddie gives a toast to those close to him, saying, "Here's to family—or whatever we are." That remark touches on the film's real contribution: its portrayal of what constitutes a family. With Eddie's parents deceased, his conception of family and home is altered. The ways that conception is constructed and reconstructed—especially in a 1950s setting amid Hispanic prejudices—is useful.
"Spin" endures some storytelling turbulence, making the ride a bit bumpy at times, but its moral horizon is steady.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. Reviewer's Note: Francesca suffers physical abuse, and Eddie smokes like a chimney (though others chide him repeatedly for it).
Director: James Redford
Writer: James Redford (from the novel by Donald Everett Axinn)
Cast: Eddie: Ryan Merriman; Francesca: Paula Garces; Frank: Stanley Tucci; Ernesto: Ruben Blades; Margaret: Dana Delany.
The movie's official Web site is here.