AMER­I­CAN FABLE, drama, rated PG-13, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - West Wing Terry and the Pi­rates The Tree of Life,

If Dr. Vic­tor Franken­stein had made a movie, it might have looked a bit like this. Writer-di­rec­tor Anne Hamil­ton has as­sem­bled var­i­ous cin­e­matic el­e­ments and gal­va­nized them into some­thing re­sem­bling a life form: a crea­ture that lurches and speaks, is vaguely men­ac­ing, and comes to a sorry end.

Some of the parts she has stitched to­gether are good. At the top of the list is the film’s vis­ual style. Set in Wis­con­sin farm coun­try, it de­liv­ers a rich har­vest of gor­geous pho­tog­ra­phy from the cam­era of Wy­att Garfield. Hamil­ton worked as an in­tern for Ter­rence Mal­ick on and some of the master’s dreamy, lyri­cal style (and some of his nar­ra­tive in­co­her­ence) clearly rubbed off.

The mu­sic is omi­nous, and the act­ing is com­pe­tent, if mostly un­re­mark­able. The story’s cen­tral fig­ure is Gitty (Pey­ton Kennedy), an eleven-year-old tomboy who roams the fields of her fa­ther’s farm on her bi­cy­cle with her pet chicken, Happy. It’s the Rea­gan era, and her fa­ther, Abe (Kip Par­due), is strug­gling to hold onto his farm while many around him are los­ing theirs. Round­ing out the fam­ily is her preg­nant mother, Sarah (Marci Miller), and her sullen, bor­der­line so­cio­pathic brother Martin (Gavin MacIn­tosh).

As the movie opens, Gitty is head­ing for a re­mote silo on the fam­ily prop­erty that she seems never to have no­ticed be­fore. Her fa­ther stops her with a stern warn­ing: “I’ve told you never to go near that silo!” It sounds a bit like an ad­mo­ni­tion in a fairy tale, and Hamil­ton ap­pears to be con­sciously after some of that fla­vor here.

Like the damsels in those tales, Gitty just can’t keep away from a for­bid­den place, and the next time she ven­tures near the silo, she hears a voice call­ing to her from within. There’s a man in there. He’s well dressed, well spo­ken, and his name is Jonathan Win­ters. (Why Jonathan Win­ters? Would you name a char­ac­ter Sid Cae­sar?) And he’s a prisoner. He’s played by Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler to you fans), who brings an el­e­vated level of act­ing to the ta­ble.

Win­ters is re­vealed to be a wealthy real-es­tate spec­u­la­tor who’s been buy­ing up failed farms in the re­gion. It’s never quite clear why or how Abe has kid­napped him, but he is in ca­hoots with Vera (Zuleikha Robin­son), a shad­owy vil­lain­ess out of by way of a Dis­ney movie, with whom he may be hav­ing an af­fair. Gitty be­friends Win­ters and brings him food, books, and a chess set, but she never re­ports her dis­cov­ery, ei­ther to her fam­ily or to the po­lice. Nor, at least at first, does he ask her to.

There are so many loose story ends, in­con­sis­ten­cies, and odd­i­ties that it would be ex­haust­ing to try to list them all. The worst of th­ese as­sem­bled parts is the screen­play. Like the crim­i­nal’s “ab­nor­mal” brain im­planted in Dr. Franken­stein’s cre­ation, it makes a hope­less, inar­tic­u­late mon­ster out of this cin­e­matic crea­ture. — Jonathan Richards

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