Sometimes there's a movie that has better things in it than the underlying material deserves. Alison Eastwood's "Rails & Ties" is a movie like that. I found the opening third tremendously intriguing and involving, I thought the emotions were so real they could be touched, but then the film lost its way and fell into the clutches of sentimental melodrama.
It opens on a railroad engineer going to work. This is Tom Stark (Kevin Bacon), and he doesn't merely love his job but feels a sense of duty about it that is part of the fiber of his being. He has been told he can take the day off because of bad news he has received about the health of his wife. But he wouldn't think of it. He follows the railroad book on all things, including life and death.
We meet his wife, Megan (Marcia Gay Harden), who is dying of cancer and filled with fear and grief, and she has some moments that are heartbreaking. She needs her husband, or maybe she needs a husband who could be emotionally available to her; Tom is not there for her and hasn't been for years, pouring all of his passion into trains. At work, he's behind the throttle, and at home, he's tinkering with his elaborate model train layout.
We meet another mother and her young son. This is Laura Danner (Bonnie Root), who has big problems and has taken a lot of pills and parked her car on the tracks with her 9-year-old son, Davey (Miles Heizer), belted in next to her.