Train fanatic Tom Stark's job enjoyment stops shielding him from grief over his wife Megan's now terminal cancer when Laura Danner commits suicide by planting her car on the railway just before Tom's train arrives. Tom's colleague Otis, who never got over a hobo doing the same on foot, resigns, Tom is suspended. It's even worse for Laura's fatherless son Davey, who loses his home too. He escapes from a monstrous foster-ma's home and tracks down Tom's home. Megan, who was about to leave without allowing him to get closer again during her last weeks, promises to stay if they take on Davey. Boy and childless couple soon grow on each-other, but a social worker is on Davey's trail.Written by
As "Rails and Ties" opens, locomotive engineer Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon) is having the kind of day most of us wouldn't wish on our own worst enemy; his 41-year-old wife, Megan (Marcia Gay Harden), has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and a mentally ill young mother has committed suicide by parking her car directly in the path of the train he is conducting. As is customary in such cases, Tom is put on temporary suspension pending an investigation of the crash. He also has to come to terms with the imminent loss of his wife, who laments the fact that the couple never had a child and that she will die without ever having truly lived. Meanwhile, the dead woman's 11-year-old son, Davey (Miles Heizer), who has miraculously escaped the tragedy (it was intended as a murder/suicide), seeks Tom out to confront him about running over his mother, but stays to find a surrogate family of sorts with Tom and Megan - with all the messy legal ramifications that that entails.
Needless to say, given the plot as outlined above, "Rails and Ties" isn't exactly designed to be a passel of upbeat fun. Still, those with a taste for serious, thoughtful, humanistic dramas will find much to cherish in this film. The Micky Levy screenplay focuses, primarily, on the complex marital relationship of Tom and Megan, as they struggle with why Tom has never been able to fully commit himself to either the marriage or the prospect of being a father.
Given all the various tragic elements that meet up in this single drama, the movie could easily have become awash in sentimentality and bathos. Instead, the subtlety and restraint of Alison Eastwood's direction, along with the richly understated performances (especially by Harden), keep the suds from rising too much to the surface. The result is a movie that deals authentically and truthfully with some highly unorthodox and rather touchy subject matter. "Rails and Ties" may pluck on the heartstrings a little too freely at times, but the tears and throat lumps it elicits are, for the most part, honestly earned.
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