[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00J7T87XC][/pullquote] Set over an intensely hot Labor Day weekend in 1987, the story centres thirteen year old Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) and his single mother Adele (Kate Winslet) who reluctantly harbor an intimidating escaped convict Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) in their already fragile home. But Labor Day is no racy-panic stricken hostage thriller. Oh no. If you’re going to be held hostage in your home by any escaped convict then Frank is the perfect house guest. He can come and stay at ours anytime.
Since her husband’s departure, Adele has spiraled into a depression that has left her anxious, vacant and isolated from the world that she once knew. On first thought you could mistake her for a woman burned by her husbands abandonment, who neglects her son, but you soon learn that there is more sadness and pain behind those dark and troubled eyes. Her story is heartbreaking and you are left feeling so saddened by her tortured soul and her longing to be loved. Winslet’s performance is predictably perfect, if not somewhat outshone in this film by the male leads, particularly her son, Henry.
Your heart goes out to Henry, from the moment he narrates his personal account of the weekend that changed their lives. Since his father walked out on them to remarry his secretary, Henry has taken care of his mother and he feels this overwhelming sense of responsibility for her. He desperately tries to fill the void that his father left and it’s heart breaking to see from a child’s perspective the gaping whole that an absent parent leaves on a family, which is a key theme running throughout the film. You can easily see why Henry is drawn to Frank from the moment he asks for their help, as he is the father figure he has been longing for.
Not long after entering their home and tying them up to create the perfect hostage scenario, Frank begins to cook them dinner before cleaning (and waxing) the floors, mending the wall outside, fixing the car and teaching Henry how to play baseball. So of course within a day, Adele has fallen for Frank. He is everything that was missing in their lives. I don’t think there would be a housewife in the country that would turn him away or into the hands of the police. All men should take a leaf out of Frank’s book (OK so perhaps not the murdering part…) but if you cook good food, do a little cleaning and fix things around the house (without being asked a zillion times) the world would be a happier place for you all. It’s that easy. Brolin’s performance brings enough unease and curiosity to the film that you will be hooked from the moment he says “I wonder if you can give me a hand here”…gripping stuff.
Directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno), the film provokes a range of issues, but for me the fundamental theme is about family. It’s the simple things in life that make us whole and it’s something that people can take for granted. Each character is desperately longing for a family and unconditional love that binds you together. On Frank’s arrival there is a new hope for for Adele and Henry. He brings light into their dark lives and reunites them as a unit.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning and it cleverly draws on all the senses. There are so many delicate moments that captivate the subtle themes that the film explores. You can smell the food that Frank prepares which draws them closer together. You feel the intense heat that radiates not only that holiday weekend but the intensity of the situation the characters are faced with. You can feel the weight of every touch and understand how hungry the characters are to be held and to be supported. The atmosphere is intense and almost suffocating that when the characters are outside, you take in the air and appreciate a moment of freedom from the strained circumstances they find themselves in. One particularly beautiful scene, where Frank teaches Adele and Henry how to cook a peach pie, is a simple, yet detailed scene that screams a thousands words which signify the idea of family. Of working together, supporting one another and growing together as a whole. All that from a peach pie…