‘East of the Mountains’ Review: The Cardiologist is a Lone Hunter

If the widow Ben Givens had executed his plan early in “East of the Mountains,” he would have made a very short film. Instead, Ben (Tom Skerritt) reconsiders killing himself in the house he shares with his wife and decides to organize a hunting accident. With his sweet spaniel dog and a shotgun, Ben heads east from Seattle and his daughter (Mira Sorvino) who doesn’t know she has cancer, to the land of youth. Washington’s Columbia River basin is a vast expanse of shrubs and grasslands, apple orchards, and memorabilia.

His plan may have been revised, but he remains firm. Then his car engine explodes. Ben is captured by two young lovers. Their interests are lively and herald the interactions that will change Ben’s journey. Some are kind. One is almost deadly.

There’s a bit of Hemingway-like overdetermined white masculinity in Ben, who was called up as a doctor during the Korean War. Thane Swigart’s script uses this quality and provides several demographic observations. “It wasn’t this brown when you were growing up,” says Anita (Annie Gonzalez), a veterinarian and veteran, of the town where Ben grew up.

Based on David Guterson’s novel of the same name, this familiar yet intriguing drama (directed by SJ Chiro) joins a growing number of films about aging heroes. Often, these films are rewarding not for their stories, but for the narrative performance of an actor who has spent his career elevating the surrounding communities. On the return of a star, Skerritt reveals the tiniest crevices of vulnerability in her unwavering portrayal of a cardiologist who is sick and grieving and fed up with both.

East of the Mountains
Not rated. Working time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters and can be rented or purchased apple tv, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay-TV operators.

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