Movie Review: Sons are tested when dad takes them to the “Edge of Winter”

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2stars1“Edge of Winter” enters my field of vision with a natural advantage. It’s my kind of story — gritty, woodsy, with a hint of survivalism about it. There’s still a vicarious thrill in experiencing wilderness through those trapped in a life or death situation in it.

And Joel Kinnaman, of “House of Cards,” is much better at channeling rawboned working class qualities here than whatever he was supposed to get across in “Suicide Squad.”

In director Rob Connolly’s feature debut, Kinnaman stars as a man out of sorts, with no control of his life or his temper (his hand’s in a cast and he’s unemployed, do the math). He seems like  a man out of his time.

He’s lost his wife (Rachel Lefevre of “White House Down”) and feels his two sons (Tom Holland of “The Impossible” and Percy Hynes White) may be slipping away as well. Mom and new hubby are off on a cruise, so a little “real dad” and sons bonding is in order.

But a tussle over a carelessly kept shotgun gives Elliot an idea for a teachable moment. He’ll pile the boys into his old Jeep Cherokee and make for the remote North Woods. They’ll learn to shoot. He’ll make men out of them because “Every man should know how to safely use and respect a gun.”

Teenage Brad (Holland) and tweenage Caleb (White) first take their first toilet break out of doors, get their first feel the kick of a 12 gauge, sip their first beer and kill their first bunny.

Yeah, they’re “soft.” But that’ll change. Not before Brad gets his first experience behind the wheel.

A badly-timed moment of sibling rivalry gets them stranded, in the snowy woods, with only the would-be outdoorsman dad and his temperament to save them.

The Jeep getting stuck is not the first melodramatic flourish in the script. Dad’s decision making, addled by beer and the fear that he’s losing the boys, grows more and more questionable as the characters blunder through every lost-in-snow cliche ever filmed.

And there are others lost out there (Shiloh Fernandez and  Rossif Sutherland). Friend or foe? 

Connolly’s film, formerly titled less poetically, “Backcountry,” has a lovely, wintry tone and a few minor surprises. The action sequences are competently handled, even if there’s little real suspense about what is coming and where this is going.

A more challenging film would have grappled with this gender ennui that a generation of working class American men are experiencing. Connolly and co-writer Kyle Mann also fail to give us a lot of woodlore and never come to grips with just how at home in the woods Elliot is supposed to be.

He is just an Average Joe, who probably hunts twice a year and doesn’t let those trips impact his beer intake. Movies about “Average Joes” usually lean toward dull.

Kinnaman holds the picture together well enough, but this needs to be about more than just kids learning Dad’s dirty open secret — that he has a violent, immature temper, that maybe he’s not the sort of guy to “make a man” out of kids, even his own.

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MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Tom Holland, Percy Hynes White, Rachel LeFevre
Credits: Directed by Rob Connolly, script by Rob Connolly, Kyle Mann. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:28

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