Mending the Line, 2023.
Directed by Joshua Caldwell.
Starring Brian Cox, Sinqua Walls, Perry Mattfeld, Patricia Heaton, Wes Studi, Irene Bedard, Julian Works, Chris Galust, Tristan Thompson, Pressly Coker, Michaela Sasner, Melanie Rae Wendt, Gabriel Clark, Jenna Ciralli, Scott McCauley, Phaedra Nielson, and Josef Patterson.
A Marine wounded in Afghanistan is sent to a V.A. facility in Montana where he meets a Vietnam Vet who teaches him how to fly fish as a way of dealing with his emotional and physical trauma.
Bafflingly, Mending the Line often feels determined to go out of its way and be about everything but its central hook of fishing as serene therapy for traumatized war veterans struggling to ingratiate themselves back into society. Admittedly, sometimes this is not too bothersome, as director Joshua Caldwell and screenwriter Stephen Camilio sincerely care about the film’s trio of protagonists, which is at its best when they allow these characters to have lengthy, vulnerable, thoughtful conversations with one another. It’s also beneficial that those actors (Sinqua Walls, Brian Cox, and Perry Mattfeld) frequently find ways to rise above clunky material. Other times, they are as bad, forced, and corny as the movie they are in.
Colter (Sinqua Walls, a solid rising talent who deserves better projects) is a Marine veteran indirectly responsible for getting his squad and teammates killed during one last patrol in Afghanistan, which turned out to be an ambush. Amplifying the survivor’s guilt is the fact that everyone was set to go home the next morning, but due to his absence of family during his upbringing, the military is his family, serving as the reason for his encouragement to the boys to take up one last task together. To pile it more, one of the casualties was a childhood friend with a fiancé.
Struggling to find something to live for, Colter starts drinking alcohol excessively and bugs his V.A. doctor (Patricia Heaton) about necessary steps before redeployment. Knowing that he is not mentally or physically fit to do so (he is currently being treated for scar tissue wounds that are properly healing) and that another veteran, Ike (Brian Cox), has been experiencing blackouts while fly-fishing by himself, she insists that he take up that hobby and they hang out together for mutual benefit.
Meanwhile, there’s a librarian named Lucy (Perry Mattfeld) who sometimes comes to the V.A. to read to the veterans, also grieving the loss of a loved one (a plot point that is awkwardly conveyed), crossing paths with Colter in the bookstore when he asks for book recommendations about fly-fishing. That’s probably an overload of information but also indicative that Mending the Line works overtime to bring these characters together conveniently.
Even if the fishing metaphors for moving on and living life are bludgeoned into the viewer through excessive narration (set to an overbearingly mawkish score), it is a refreshing angle to explore military PTSD healing. However, Mending the Line mostly comes across as cliché and false whenever it does attempt to portray PTSD (there are several cheesy nightmare flashbacks to the inciting incident in Afghanistan and depictions of alcoholism that feel inauthentic). It’s also a 2+ hour movie that continues to force new elements of drama, many of which derail an otherwise involving middle stretch.
Sinqua Walls and Perry Mattfeld have engaging chemistry, with the filmmakers wisely not turning their relationship into a love story. However, it feels superfluous anyway in a story about two veterans from different generations fishing and receiving wisdom from one another. Each of the three characters does have at least one moving moment (alone and alongside one another), but Mending the Line loses sight of its narrative, and the compelling acting isn’t enough to save it.
One subplot introduced in the final 30 minutes is resolved so cleanly and dishonestly that it’s all eye-rolling. Mending the Line veers back and forth like bumper cars, from compelling dialogue exchanges to phony drama.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com