Ulee's Gold

USA - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Peter Fonda has been around forever, but after making a big splash with "Easy Rider," and later "The Hired Hand," which he also directed, he slipped into what can charitably be called b-pictures. Yet, even when going for the bucks in "Escape from L.A.," "Rider" carried such a cachet, that Fonda's status as cult icon was assured. With "Ulee's Gold," Peter Fonda finally lives up to his early promise with a performance that's a career maker. If this doesn't land him permanently on the a-list for quality scripts, there is no justice.

Fonda plays Ulee Jackson, a Vietnam vet that's struggling with a lot of pain. His soul-mate wife is dead, his son's in prison, his daughter-in-law's disappeared into drug abuse, and the older of the two granddaughters he's raising is on her way to repeating her parents mistakes and then some. Ulee retreats into beekeeping. He takes care of them, and they take care of him. It's a simplicity and order the other part of his life can't offer. As the film says, sadness makes you quiet, and this is a very quiet guy. If he allows himself feelings anymore, it's a secret that he keeps to himself.

Here's where Fonda's performance is so remarkable. He shows us both the quietness, and the sadness underneath. Then, when life, in the form of his errant daughter-in-law, his son's ex-partners in crime, and the rather nice neighbor lady who lends a hand, all come crashing in on him at once, he also shows us the part of Ulee that would maybe like to rejoin the living. There's the half-catch in the throat, the quiet emotional investment in the making of a cup of tea, and the way he doesn't raise his voice when provoked, instead, subtly intensifying the delivery.

The film's pivotal line, the one which signals Ulee's re-awakening, is about discovering that not all weakness is evil. Once he realizes this, he can forgive not only the people who've let him down, but himself as well. Trust Victor Nunez, who both wrote and directed "Ulee's Gold", to be able to tell Ulee's whole story, past, present, and future, with a few, perfectly composed lines of dialogue. And how lucky for him to have Peter Fonda delivering it.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 6/18/97

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