Though I didn’t see Beneath the Harvest Sky at the recently concluded Tribeca Film Festival, it did play there and watch it gave me the sense that it probably plays better as a festival title than anything else. Documentarians turned narrative filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly are certainly able to evoke a realistic mood and some nice performances from their cast (particularly leads Emory Cohen and Callan McAuliffe), but they never quite made the story interesting enough to want to follow for almost two hours. This is the sort of movie that can sustain interest if it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and that happened in a big way here. The film is at least 15 minutes too long, if not more, and that winds up hurting it in such a way that I ultimately wasn’t able to recommend it. This teen centric drama/coming of age story with some thriller aspects does have some solid things to offer, but it doesn’t distinguish itself as anything overtly worth seeking out. It’s a flick that is impossible to hate but frankly a bit hard to like. A little bit of it goes a long way, and there’s more than a little bit on display. Beneath the Harvest Sky is interesting at times, but frankly just not interesting enough.
The film follows Casper (Cohen) and Dominic (McAuliffe), high school students who have been best friends since childhood and are incredibly loyal to each other. Like many in their small town on the border of Maine and Canada, Casper and Dominic are basically desperate for a way out. They want more than this quiet place has to offer, so the boys make a secret pact to pool all of their money together in order to buy a car and hit the road, never to look back. Things don’t go according to plan though. While Dominic works on one last potato harvest, Casper winds up being drawn into some initially petty drug smuggling with his no good father Clayton (Aidan Gillen) in order to pay for his part of the deal. That choice creates even more issues for the two teens. Before long, their friendship is really pushed to the brink and these teens are faced with some very adult choices to make. Things get a little too “movie” like for me at the end, but there’s a true to life feel on display in the first half. Basically, while there are certainly similar aspects of the plot to many other movies set in small town America, and while it does ring true in terms of depicting that sort of life, it never goes the extra mile to make things really click into place.
I really liked Emory Cohen in The Place Beyond the Pines, despite it being a divisive performance. He’s not quite as good here, but Cohen certainly again is able to effectively depict an unlikeable character. He’s also very strong at showing teen angst, though obviously he won’t be able to do that forever. The same sort of thing goes for Callan McAuliffe, though he’s much more likable an individual than who Cohen is playing. McAuliffe isn’t as strong a presence, but he’s strong enough in the movie. They’re really the only ones who make an impact, though Aidan Gillen gets to do something that is probably supposed to remind you of John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone. Aside from Gillen, the supporting players include Kymberli Bryant, Zoe Levin, and Carrie Preston, but the characters you’re supposed to really be invested in are Cohen’s and McAuliffe’s. In that regard at least, the movie is fairly successful.
Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly are making their narrative writing and directing debuts here, and while their nonfiction background helps with the gritty realism on display, they’re not nearly on as solid ground when it comes to telling a sustainable story. I almost thing this sort of a thing would have worked better as a documentary, all things considered. Guadet and Pullapilly have a nice look to the film, but the screenplay isn’t original enough and the pacing isn’t steady enough to keep you locked in for an hour and 56 minutes. Films that run that long need to have a bit more meat on their bones than this one. I’m not saying that 116 minute movies are all dense works, but Beneath the Harvest Sky just doesn’t have enough here.
I don’t want to make it seem like this is all bad, since my major issue with Beneath the Harvest Sky is that it doesn’t do enough to justify its running length. That’s not an issue that makes the film unwatchable, just one I can’t go out and recommend to you all. There’s still some fine performances and an effective mood on display. If it sounds like something you think is worth your time, give it a shot. If not, you really won’t be missing a whole lot. The story told in Beneath the Harvest Sky has been done before, and better too…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!