'The Guys' provides tremendous emotion

Saturday, April 5, 2003

Little was certain in the immediate aftermath of 9-11; the flood of emotion and incomprehension seemed to block most rational thought.

But there was no doubt about the heroism of the New York Fire Department, an extended family that lost a staggering number of relatives in the line of duty. Even today, as an out-of-towner, the sight of a fire engine on the streets of Manhattan sends shivers up the spine. Needless to say, there's a great movie to be made about the NYFD.

Grade: B(PG-13)adult themes

"The Guys" is not it, but it doesn't have to be. Adapted from a play written by Columbia University journalism professor Anne Nelson -- and based on her experiences -- the film has the boxed-in feel, talky pace and ready-to-pluck heartstrings of a TV movie.

Yet, it still has peaks of tremendous emotional impact and heartfelt wisdom on the nature of grieving. For anyone who knew anyone directly affected by that day's trauma, it should provide a heavy dose of catharsis.

Sigourney Weaver stars as Joan, a New York writer enlisted by a fire captain named Nick (Anthony LaPaglia) to eulogize his men. Meeting in her apartment to translate his memories into her words, the two open each other's eyes and remind us that behind every human tragedy is a human story. It's a demanding task for the two stars, who are onscreen for most of the film's 87 minutes, and it makes for a somewhat claustrophobic film experience. There are only so many visual options for depicting two people talking in a kitchen.

But Weaver and LaPaglia are game enough to put across the emotional high points, and their interplay grows stronger as the film progresses. Ultimately, they're able to show what these two characters provide for each other. For Nick, the sessions are therapy, a chance to remember his men and process the fact they're no longer here. For Joan, the experience brings perspective on the tragedy, her life and the city she loves.

Joan is a bit of a drama hog; too much of the story concerns her transformation, when, in fact, the story is not really hers. But Weaver does a fine job selling some powerhouse moments. In one of the strongest, Joan sits alone at her typewriter and ponders the ripple effect of tragedy, starting with the first circles created by a pebble hitting water, then stretching out to larger, more inclusive reverberations. The moment is simple but haunting, a perfect verbal description of interconnectedness.

"The Guys" will not advance the craft of filmmaking. But its directness shrinks recent history by pushing easily repressed memories back into the foreground. Is it a great movie? Certainly not. Should it be seen? Absolutely.