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Movie Review

Ulee's Gold

Reviewed by: Brian Nigro

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens and Adults
111 min.

Starring: Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Christine Dunford, Jessica Biel, Vanessa Zima, Steven Flynn, Dewey Weber, J. Kenneth Campbell / Director: Victor Nunez / Released by: Orion Pictures

“God allows U-turns.” So reads a common bumper sticker you may have seen. “Ulee’s Gold” is a quiet, contemplative movie about family and forgiveness suggestive of that sticker. Peter Fonda stars as Ulee Jackson, a mild-mannered beekeeper with sufficient stress on his shoulders. His wife passed away recently, and he takes care of his granddaughters Corey (Jessica Biel) and Penny (Vanessa Zima), because their parents are hurting, legally and morally.

The movie’s crisis kicks in when his jailed son Jimmy (Tim Wood) calls. Jimmy’s wife Helen (Christine Dunford) is strung out on drugs and needs to be rescued from some sleazy criminals. So, Ulee drives to the wrong side of town, only to learn that there is a price to be paid for Helen’s release; money Jimmy owes from an early, unspecified bank robbery.

“Ulee’s Gold” is a marvelous Greek mythology interpretation, and I would recommend this movie to high school students on that basis alone. However, I was not as impressed with the time spent on the bad-guy affiliations of Jimmy’s shady past.

Parents, another aspect relevant to teenagers is its (implicit) anti-drug message. While drug use isn’t shown, Helen is clearly “wasted” by the time Ulee brings her home to the initial protest of her two daughters. She’s so hyperactive it takes the medical attention of Ulee’s neighbor Connie (Patricia Richardson from TV’s “Home Improvement”) to restrain her. Much like near-casualties Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Rush”, Thandie Newton in “Gridlock'd,” and everyone in “Trainspotting”, the scene is yet another stark reminder of the danger of drugs.

“Ulee’s Gold” is rated R for domestic turmoil, brief violence, and about a dozen profanities (sparse, but mostly all in one later scene.) It is this reviewer’s opinion that low-budget, independent releases such as this one exemplify Christian values where mainstream Hollywood movies do not.

Year of Release—1997

Viewer Comments
This is easily one of the best movies of the year. Peter Fonda’s performance should earn him an Oscar nomination.
—Bryan, age 19