Writer/director Brad Silberling knows death. His films to date - - 1995's kiddie ghost caper Casper and 1998's afterlife romancer City Of Angels - - both explored it in one form or another. Now comes Moonlight Mile, loosely based on a tragedy that struck close to home when Silberling's then-girlfriend, actress Rebecca Schaeffer, was murdered by an obsessed fan.
Silberling's channelled his grief into Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man struggling to deal with his fiancée's murder in a restaurant shooting while living with the girl's parents, JoJo (Susan Sarandon) and Ben (Dustin Hoffman). Each deals with the loss in their own way: Ben has thrown himself into his work as a real estate agent, while JoJo reacts to the writer's block she's suffering with sarcasm and wit. Joe, though, is having a crisis of conscience - - does he tell the family that he and their daughter broke up on the day of the shooting? And while he's trying to decide if he's staying around, how can he be falling for local lass Bertie (Ellen Pompeo)?
The three leads all get their moments, with Sarandon provoking most of the bittersweet laughs, Hoffman digging deep to provide one of his best performances in recent years and Gyllenhaal enjoying several standout scenes. Okay, so there's nothing here to yet prove he can break away from his sleepy-eyed depressive routine, but his confrontation with a business client during dinner is so good and so funny, you'll be willing to let it go.
The script's downsides, on the other hand, are a little less easy to forgive, with Silberling dipping his quill in the schmaltz-pot a little too regularly. The pat resolutions are beneath actors of this ability - the cast of Crossroads could handle them without any trouble - and there's a court scene that's pure Hollywood emoto-cheese.
But for all its faults, Moonlight Mile manages to be an involving, well-observed drama. Give it a go.