A Marine wounded in Afghanistan is sent to a V.A. facility in Montana where he meets a Vietnam Vet who teaches him how to fly fish as a way of dealing with his emotional and physical trauma.
Joshua Caldwell’s “Mending the Line” has a great deal on its plate. Focusing on three damaged souls desperately in need of healing and understanding, the film is steeped in good intentions as well as a good measure of coincidence. Still, if you can get past the obvious premise, there’s a great deal to like about the movie, much of it stemming from Caldwell and his veteran cast’s subtle approach and screenwriter Stephen Camelio’s at times surprising screenplay.
The film gets off to a shaky start, its prologue, while necessary, is executed in a rote, pedestrian manner that stands in stark contrast to what follows. Though he and some of his colleagues have their discharge papers and are due to return to the States the next day, Marine Sergeant Colter (Sinqua Walls) accepts an assignment for them to go out on a recon mission. It goes badly, as many of his friends are killed, while he’s seriously wounded.
The story finds its footing when it shifts to Montana where Colter has been assigned to a rehab center. He longs to return to active duty but has no patience where addressing his mental health is concerned. Bucking the system, a sympathetic doctor (Patricia Heaton) introduces him to Ike (Brian Cox), a Vietnam veteran who’s discovered a sense of peace through fly fishing. The last thing Colter wants to do is stand in the middle of a river with this old codger, playing at catch-and-release, but if he wants to be able to reenlist…
Yes, Camelio’s script does deliver on certain expectations, but that doesn’t make the poignant moments that ensue any less effective. Cox can play cranky in his sleep but it’s the vulnerability he imbues in Ike that you’ll remember. Walls impresses here, as he did in Hulu’s “White Men Can’t Jump,” proving to be a young actor to watch, while Perry Mattfeld as Lucy, a troubled library who crosses Colter’s path, generates a low-key chemistry with her co-star that is compelling.
If there’s a fault in Camlio’s script, it’s that there are too many moving parts. While it’s expected that Colter and Ike should have legitimate issues to contend with, shouldering Lucy with trauma as well seems like overkill. However, Mattfeld’s quiet rendering of her character’s pain is compelling and it’s thanks to her subtle work that we don’t discount her out of hand.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible not to be seduced by the majesty and tranquility of the Montana location or the film’s simple and heartfelt message. A particularly effective sun-kissed montage beautifully captures the power of communing with nature and the healing powers inherent in doing so. It is during this sequence, about an hour into the movie, that Caldwell beautifully drives home the effectiveness of this particular brand of therapy. Though it nearly overstays its welcome, the power and sincerity of “Line’s” message compels you to forgive its excesses, as does a third act that upends expectations in one key area. Quiet and genuine, the film’s prescription for what ails you is applicable to a great many ailments, making it a movie well worth seeking out.