Question: Why does a holy man sit alone atop a mountain? Answer: To gain perspective. Which in the end is what this film is all about-- finding the right perspective on life; figuring out what it is you were truly meant to do or be. And it points out nicely that the wisest among us are often the very ones we are prone to ignore or dismiss out-of-hand. `Uncorked ("At Sachem Farm"),' directed by John Huddles, is a small film that in the end has a substantial message that is almost profound in it's simplicity. Nothing new, perhaps, but something that so many people in our fast food generation fail to recognize or embrace, so this film actually serves as something of a wake-up call to those who have unknowingly lost that all-important perspective, and need it--whether they know it or not.
The story takes place at Sachem Farm (which could be anywhere in the world), where Ross (Rufus Sewell) lives with his Uncle Cullen (Nigel Hawthorne) and his brother, Paul (Michael Rodgers), though Paul is something of a hermit and prefers to live in the forests and fields that surround the farm, cultivating gardens out of the wilderness. Ross's girlfriend, Kendal (Minnie Driver), along with her friend, Laurie (Amelia Heinle) arrives for a stay at a very interesting time: Ross is about to conclude a deal that will finance his dream of buying and working a nearby magnesium mine, in which he sees his future and fortune awaiting. Circumstances instigated by Uncle Cullen, however, interfere; the situation turns bad, then gets worse, with the arrival of a pillar-- specially ordered by Cullen and standing at a height of twenty cubits (yes, he specifically ordered it in cubits)-- atop which Cullen subsequently takes up residence, without any intention of ever coming back down. The reclusive Paul, meanwhile, continues to work on his gardens, and Kendal encounters an old flame, Tom (Gregory Sporleder), a neighbor and former high-diver whose dreams of gold were abruptly ended some years before by a broken ankle, and who now spends his time at the lake, obsessed with regaining his form. It's an eclectic bunch, to say the least, not to mention eccentric; and Ross feels it has fallen to him to set the lives of those around him aright. To which each, in turn, say to him in their own way: `Good luck.' And such is life on Sachem Farm.
Huddles, who also wrote the story and screenplay, has crafted and delivered a quaint, quirky and somewhat insightful film, which he presents rather artistically, though at a pace that leaves something to be desired, at least early on. At times he allows the eye of the camera to roam, lending some quite interesting visual perspectives to the film (such as a moving overhead shot of Cullen atop his pillar), which he combines with different speeds and some jump cuts that are very effective. There are moments, though, when the action seems a bit too `staged,' and makes you aware that these are actors playing parts, which tends to take you out of the story. But there are also moments that are extremely engaging-- often humorous and sometimes rather poignant-- that make the whole experience worthwhile. The early part of the film tends to stall and initially seems in need of a destination, but it finds soon enough, and eventually takes you in a direction that is unexpected, but rewarding.
As Cullen, Nigel Hawthorne is subtly flamboyant, creating a very detailed and three-dimensional character who very gradually draws you in as the story unfolds. And, interestingly enough, as the character develops-- and quite nicely-- he doesn't change, though the viewer's perspective of him does; and as that perspective on Cullen shifts, it puts the story in a new light, as well. Slowly, the true meaning of what is happening on Sachem Farm begins to emerge, and that deliberate pace set by Huddles that seemed off-putting at first actually facilitates an understanding of the situation at hand. And Cullen-- especially because of Hawthorne's fine performance-- becomes a pivotal element that gives focus to this new perspective. Huddles may have come up a bit short of attaining the emotional involvement and the connection with the audience to which he aspired, but by the end you realize there was a method to his madness, and it actually worked fairly well.
Minnie Driver (who served as executive producer of this film, along with her sister, Kate, as well as Hawthorne), does a good job as Kendal, though you get the feeling her character is there mainly to support the story rather than add to it, and serves primarily as a tool to move it all along, as her connection with Tom-- and even Ross-- is a fairly minor part of the plot. Kendal, as well as Laurie, are the two characters you're left wanting to know more about, in fact.
Rufus Sewell gives a good, extremely natural performance as Ross, but it's one of those roles that tends to be taken for granted because it is played so effectively, like DiCaprio in `Titanic' or Gable in `Gone With the Wind.' It's a matter of not receiving the acclaim that is due simply because the job has been done so well. This film is on a much smaller scale, of course, but the situation is the same. And looking at it objectively, Sewell does an outstanding job here.
The supporting cast includes Keone Young (Mr. Tang), Elizabeth Tsing (Maya) and Chalvay Srichoom (Cha). They may not have lined up the Oscars for this one, but nevertheless, `Uncorked' has merit in it's subtle message, and for a pleasant diversion is definitely worth a look. Huddles certainly doesn't drive home his point with a hammer, and it may take you a while to digest it all, but after awhile you may find yourself reflecting a bit and saying, `Yeah, okay...I get it--' And that's the magic of the movies. 7/10.