Not every movie has to cover a lot of ground or take you on an epic journey to succeed. Sometimes the shortest trips can be rich and rewarding enough.
So it is with Chris Eyre’s “Hide Away.” It’s a simple, melancholy tale of loss and the way “time on the water” helps a grieving widower cope.
Josh Lucas stars as a guy who knows nothing about boats but who buys an ancient wooden schooner, the Hesperus, tied up on an out of the way marina in an unnamed cove on an unnamed body of water.
It’s Michigan, outside of Traverse City on the Great Lakes. But that’s not revealed, or important. In a movie where characters don’t tell each other their names, he is “The Young Mariner.”
He grimly buys the boat, fails to grasp the seller’s joke about “the two happiest days in any boat owner’s life,” (the day he buys it, and the day he sells it) and crawls aboard a dilapidated wreck, a loner hiding away from the world. He drinks to excess. And he tries to get the boat sea worthy.
Either he’ll fall overboard and end it there, or, we guess, drift off to his drunken death in the deep blue.
Over a long winter, the Young Mariner learns that he’s a cliche. Men in their 40s buy boats after divorces. He hears a great lie from his womanizing neighbor, that they’re “chick magnets.” (I’m a sailboat owner. I know.) He ambles to and from the local store, eyed by the pretty blonde cashier as he buys booze and cold medicine, ignoring her warnings not to “take them together.”
And he’s watched. The pretty, weathered waitress at the dockside cafe (Ayelet Zurer of “Munich” and “Angels & Demons”) takes a distant, silent interest.
The resident Old Mariner (the great James Cromwell) offers the odd bit of advice.
“Sometimes, when you get to where you’re supposed to be,” the old man growls, “it’s too soon.”
And when you get there, the waitress has a past just as interesting. That’s when the Young Mariner has to decide when to start living again.
It’s the sort of movie in which the Old Salt plays bagpipes, revealing his own great tragic past. “Amazing Grace.” Of course. And the waitress and the Old Mariner quote Longfellow.
“Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.”
The Native American filmmaker Eyre (“Smoke Signals,””Skins”) dresses up Peter Vanderwall script’s minimalism with one lovely image after another. The marina is no garden spot, modern and artificial — out of place on the serene water. But Eyre finds its beauty, and the revivifying charms of life on the water.
It has touches of melodrama, but it rarely breaks its own wistful spell. Maybe you have to know something of boats to appreciate “Hide Away,” which was titled “A Year in Mooring,” more of a pun on “mourning,” originally. The vexations of engine, mast, sail and deckwork, the mysteries of marine plumbing and bilge pumps will be familiar to anybody a taste salty.
And Lucas makes a fine show of a man in mourning, literally in over his head. The fact that he wants to be lets us fear for him and hope that his recovery curve and his sailing learning curve meet up before he makes a fatal mistake, and wounds someone else in the process.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for a scene of sensuality, brief strong language and thematic material
Cast: Josh Lucas, Ayelet Zurer, James Cromwell
Credits: Directed by Chris Eyre, written by Peter Vanderwall.
Running time: 1:22