Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
“Miles from Home” opens with what looks like old TV news footage, in snowy black and white, of big Cadillacs speeding down dusty roads past prosperous cornfields. Then we see the stocky man in the oversize suit climbing out of the limo, and we remember the event: This is the famous visit that Nikita Khrushchev paid to an average American farm in Iowa. On the front porch steps, he shakes hands with the farmer, while the farmer’s two small boys stand uneasily at attention, their hair slicked down flat with brilliantine.
That was 30 years ago. Now, as the film turns into color, a fierce rain storm is sweeping the plains, and the farmer’s two sons, grown to men, struggle to move a big combine before it gets stuck in the mud. The brothers are named Frank and Terry Roberts, and in the summer of 1987 they have a weather problem; ironically, in view of the drought of 1988, it is too much rainfall. Their corn is soaked and some of it is rotting. Their yield will be disappointing. On the walls of the farmhouse where they were born are plaques and clippings naming their father the Farmer of the Year. But this is not the first bad year the sons have have had, and they will lose the farm to the bank.
Those are the opening scenes of “Miles from Home,” a movie about the farm crisis that is sometimes too contrived, but finally very moving as the story of an angry reaction to the squeeze on small farmers. The movie stars Richard Gere as the older, angrier brother, and Kevin Anderson as the younger, sweeter kid who is carried along by Gere’s headlong rage.
There is a quiet scene near the beginning of the film that sets up a lot of things. The brothers are holding a yard sale to raise some cash. A thoughtless, pretty city girl (Penelope Ann Miller) stops by with a girlfriend, and observes to Anderson, “People would have to be pretty desperate to try to sell junk like this.” Then she realizes it is Anderson’s farm. Her eyes fill with tears as she starts to apologize, but then there is a charged silence between the two of them, as they realize they have fallen in love.