There’s something romantic about the water. Storytellers have been drawn to it over and over again, and great movies, have resulted—from Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm, to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It, to name a few.
The Great Lakes feature prominently in director Chris Eyre’s Hide Away. Our main character, The Young Mariner (Josh Lucas), lives on a once-great boat that’s now moored to a lonely pier (the movie was originally called A Year in Mooring).
The Young Mariner is recovering from something (known in movies as "the mournful loss"), and over time we learn what that loss is. His choice in recovery is to buy a dilapidated boat and try to turn it into a seaworthy vessel. As far as we can tell, The Young Mariner has little experience sailing, but he knows enough to bail water and to try to fix the bilge pump. In fact, there's something satisfying watching him turn the crumbling Hesperus from nothing into something.
Of course, The Young Mariner wants to be left alone. He dodges his former boss (Taylor Nichols), other people on the pier and The Waitress who runs the nearby café (Ayelet Zurer), but he eventually must interact with someone or this would be the most boring movie ever. So he interacts with The Ancient Mariner (a welcome but under-used James Cromwell) and The Waitress.
They form a trio of lost souls, but instead of building meaningful human relationships, Hide Away focuses on allegory and silence and serious looks; the result is a whole lot of nothing. Part of the problem lies in the screenplay, which wants to be deep—The Waitress quotes mythology, The Young Mariner reads “The Odyssey” and The Ancient Mariner plays bagpipes—but its scant character details muddle instead of illuminate. Lucas, and especially Cromwell, do the best with what they have, but when working with so little an actor can only do so much.
The character names are indicative of this movie’s dilemma. These aren’t people, they’re archetypes. And when we finally learn the reason behind The Young Mariner’s self-imposed near-solitude, it’s a letdown. The scene is awkwardly acted and edited, and instead of humanizing The Young Mariner, it makes him unlikable.
To a degree, Hide Away recalls Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent. Both movies focus on unlikely friends and take their time reaching a narrative conclusion. The difference is The Station gives each character a defined and believable backstory with reason to be a loner. Hide Away feels strangely unfinished and drags despite its short running time.
Hide Away is aided immeasurably by the Great Lakes scenery, with The Young Mariner living through a bright autumn, harsh winter and colorful spring, all handsomely photographed by Elliot Davis. Another bonus is the ending, which despite not coming fast enough, is unburdened by sentiment or nostalgia; it just sort of happens. We still don’t know The Young Mariner well, but at least he’s moving past Hide Away.
The Screen, PG-13, 88 min.