Adele (Kate Winslet) is one of those emotionally wounded single moms who’s clinging to her only child, a pre-pubescent boy named Henry (Gattlin Griffith). He is trying hard to “take care of” his mom who seems to have difficulty even doing the simplest things, like getting in her car and driving to the store. The house is getting run down. Adele doesn’t seem to have any friends or family nearby. Her ex, Gerald (Clark Gregg), has re-married and not only taken on his new wife’s two children, they’ve had another of their own. Gerald picks up Henry every Sunday night for dinner, where, predictably, Gerald is trying to orchestrate a “one big happy family” thing, with limited success. Henry doesn’t really feel a part of that household at all. He sees his “family” as just his mom. But neither is really cognizant of just how isolated they’ve become.
That’s why when the drifter suddenly appears, bleeding from the belly, and asks for a little assistance, neither Adele nor Henry are well-equipped to resist. Before they know it, Frank (Josh Brolin) is in their house and immediately informs them that he is an escaped convict. At first he does the predictable thing: he ties them up and assures them he’s not going to hurt them as long as they cooperate. Naturally, we, as viewers, are beginning to fear that this isn’t going to end well.
But then the Stockholm Syndrome begins operating: the hostages begin to feel empathy, especially as Frank fixes them chili and spoon-feeds her. Yes, there’s something vaguely sensual starting to happen, also, and Adele isn’t doing anything to discourage that. (It’s been far too long since any man has touched her tenderly, even if he is a tough-looking stranger. Maybe that’s part of the appeal.) Henry is looking at this innocently, but also realizing that his mom has been terribly lonely and depressed, and this, at least, is more interactive then he’s seen her in a long while.
Before we know it, not only are the ropes removed, Frank is starting to fix things around the house: the squeaky door, the split stair, the burned-out bulb. He’s teaching Henry to throw a curveball. And he teaches them how to make an honest-to-goodness homemade peach pie. Suddenly they are doing things “as a family” in a way that makes them all want to run off somewhere and start all over again.
Ah, but it isn’t that easy, of course. The local law enforcement continues to put out APBs on the television news for this “dangerous” escaped convict who was imprisoned for murder. (Frank’s retort was something about how that wasn’t the whole story. Right.) To prevent the scenario from becoming too stifling, some other characters are introduced: a neighbor who comes with her wheel-chair bound handicapped son insisting that Adele help her out while she has to go somewhere. And when Henry rides his bike to the grocery store for supplies, he runs into the new girl at school. They wind up taking a little walk around the lake, as if to signal that Henry’s just on the brink of auspicious changes himself. This absence also provides the opportunity for Adele and Frank to … you know … find occasion to express their newfound affection, but we viewers are remarkably spared from the intimate details.
Saying any more would spoil the ending, if others haven’t done that for you already. But suffice is to say that it’s not exactly “happily ever after.” But at least they all had that one strange, magnificent weekend of Labor Day.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.