TV Review: Clichés Deflate Potential Emotion of ‘The Space Between’

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CHICAGO – Some movies don’t just use cliches, they practically bathe in them, finding little other way to tell their story. Despite yet another strong performance from Oscar winner Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”), “The Space Between,” being broadcast uncut on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this Sunday, is such a movie. She keeps it interesting but the film takes a potentially resonant story and deflates it with paper-thin storytelling.

HollywoodChicago.com TV Rating: 1.5/5.0
TV Rating: 1.5/5.0

Given the amount of film product produced in the last ten years and our cultural need to comment on real-life events with a 24-hour news cycle, there have actually been surprisingly few dramatic tales spun around the events of 9/11/01. Perhaps the day is still too raw to be effectively examined in a fictional way, but the problem with “The Space Between” is how little it actually attempts to do so. It feels nearly exploitative in its use of the day to initiate what is essentially an oil-and-water road movie.

The Space Between
The Space Between
Photo credit: USA

The inciting incident of “The Space Between” actually works from an interesting vantage point. When the planes hit the towers, there were hundreds of flights diverted and aircraft forced to land far from their destination. It seems almost likely that a child, one of those young ones essentially under stewardess guardianship while airborne, would be trapped between home and destination. Such is the case with Omar (Anthony Keyvan), a 10-year-old Pakistani stuck with irascible stewardess Montine (Melissa Leo) as she is forced to try and get him home.

The Space Between
The Space Between
Photo credit: USA

Seeing the moments of panic after the crashes and the towers falling from the viewpoint of a plane staff stuck on the ground is interesting and Leo sells her character’s conflicted arc — she wants to get home to her own loved ones but is forced to deal with the young man by her superior or risk losing her job (a twist that I’m not 100% sure I believe). When Montine hears that Omar’s father worked in a restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center (a truly manipulative twist), she makes it an emotional and personal goal to get him to New York City.

Kids in jeopardy, prejudice, the working class, even the thawing of disparate personalities on a road trip — we’ve seen ALL of this before. And it’s a shame because there truly is a unique story here as to how flight staff dealt with the drama of that day and how a child from the now-demonized part of the world would respond to the instant prejudice that arose. When Omar tries to pray on a bus, the TV-manufactured response feels fake.

To be blunt, none of it feels genuine, especially not the remarkably manipulative final act twist (and Martine’s ridiculous reaction to it) designed purely to pull at your heartstrings. The film may have started on the festival circuit, but it feels made for TV in every way. It’s all two-dimensional at best despite Leo’s best efforts to elevate it. Why does she have to be a drunk? Why does the kid have to be the kind of genius who can instantly figure out how expensive a cab would be to New York? Would it be less powerful if he was an average young man? Or if she wasn’t about to lose her job and drowning her sorrows in a bottle? By the time the movie gets to a drunken argument with Montine’s family, it seems more like an acting exercise than anything believable. The cliches become so thick that one can’t see the humanity through them. And the stories that filmmakers need to start telling about 9/11 are not the ones of cliche or stereotype but the honest, truthful ones about the impact of that day. Maybe it’s still too soon.

“The Space Between” stars Melissa Leo, Anthony Keyvan, Brad William Henke, AnnaSophia Robb, Phillip Rhys, and Hunter Parrish. It was written and directed by Travis Fine. It premieres, commercial-free, on USA Network on Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 8pm CST.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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