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October 21, 2016

Beneath the Harvest Sky

by Franz Patrick


Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

High school seniors Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) and Casper (Emory Cohen) made a pact to leave Van Buren, Maine and live in Boston, Massachusetts upon graduation. Although best of friends, the two have different approaches when it comes to earning money prior to their departure: the former chooses to work in a potato farm while the latter collects prescription pills and gives them to his father (Aidan Gillen) to be illegally transported across international borders.

Written and directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, “Beneath the Harvest Sky” has its feet planted on realism but often falls short from becoming truly compelling because its subplot involving law enforcements trying to capture Casper’s father takes precedence over the relationship between the two young men. Although the subplot works as a peek into where Casper’s future might be heading if he continues to make bad decisions, it does not offer much in terms of what Dominic and Casper might be thinking or feeling toward a future inching closer by the day.

Cohen and McAuliffe create characters who are believable—as individuals and as partners. Despite their elementary differences, the screenplay is aware that it is necessary to communicate, in a subtle manner, that they share enough similarities—elements that keep them together. Thus, we reach an understanding of the characters’ friendship. For instance, when someone speaks with Dominic and makes a judgement about his best friend, we know exactly why he is hurt and feeling the need to defend Casper. To him, making a quick assessment of Casper is like attacking a family member.

Scenes that revolve around Casper and Dominic’s boredom and alienation of their small town are sandwiched by the business involving drug trade. Although Gillen makes a convincing criminal who knows how to separate business from pleasure, the subplot does not offer any emotional gravity that makes it a worthy parallel storyline alongside the boys’ uncertain future. So when the picture makes a switch from central plot to subplot, the intrigue is set aside for a couple of minutes and the pacing drags. Also, I found the subplot to have very little payoff, especially given the amount of time it gets.

I enjoyed the look of the film. There seems to be a fog of gray that hovers the town. I liked looking at the ordinary faces of high school students, some bored and others interested in what the teacher has to say. Certain images like rocks being picked up from the dirt and potatoes being processed are memorable because, ironically, these are details that are a part of every day life. The film gives the impression that these little things define a community. It may not be much but it is their life nonetheless.

“Beneath the Harvest Sky” has the potential to make a real statement about this generation, but it is too long and feels like two different movies at times. It is at its best when Dominic, in his own way, challenges or reminds his best friend that he can do so much more with his life. We wait for Casper to become defensive. Maybe, deep down, he knows that this is true.

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