Directed by: Joshua Caldwell
Premise: A Marine (Sinqua Walls) wounded in Afghanistan is assigned to learn fly fishing from a Vietnam veteran (Brian Cox).
What Works: Mending the Line is a home front drama about a Marine gradually coming to terms with the fact that he lost friends in combat and will not serve in-country again due to his injuries. The story works through the stages of grief with the protagonist learning fly fishing as a way of physicalizing his thought and funneling his energy into something constructive. Fly fishing is an effective metaphor of this process and Mending the Line visualizes the character’s internal struggle without being too obvious. The film benefits from a vivid impression of reality that’s owed to the performances and the filmmaking style. Sinqua Walls stars in the lead as the Afghanistan veteran learning to fly fish. There’s a physical tension to Walls in his early scenes that gradually relaxes over the course of the film. Brian Cox is cast as the fellow Marine and experienced fly fisherman who takes on the younger man as a student. In the late period of his career, Cox has specialized in playing gruff fatherly characters and he does that well here. His harsh exterior is complicated by his backstory and complimented by his banter with his fishing buddy played by Wes Studi. The two of them are likable and convincing as old friends. The main cast is rounded out by Perry Mattfeld as a local librarian. Mattfeld’s character has her own story. She’s not just there to be the healing presence in a man’s life and she sorts out her own grief. Mending the Line is also well shot, judiciously using different filmmaking styles and capturing the calmness and quiet of fishing in a way that contrasts with the violence of war.
What Doesn’t: Mending the Line generally keeps the horrors of war at a distance. This makes the film accessible but also keeps it from really confronting the trauma of combat and the toll it can take on veterans. Walls’ character suffers from survivor’s remorse and Mending the Line loses sight of the way the memory of the dead haunts the living. Walls’ character mourns the loss of his close friend and Cox’s character is estranged from his son. These characters never meaningfully confront their losses. The film’s portrait of grief is very generalized and matters are resolved too easily without digging deeper into its characters’ struggles.
Bottom Line: Mending the Line is a fine movie. It’s a little too reserved and polite and sidesteps some of the difficult aspects of its themes and subject matter. But this is a satisfying home front drama with some good performances.
Episode: #954 (June 25, 2023)