Off the Map

Off the Map takes place in 1974 Taos, New Mexico, but many of the elements present within it would otherwise place it in the grand tradition of the Southern movie (like the recent A Love Song for Bobby Long). Director Campbell Scott (Final, Big Night) and Joan Ackermann (who adapted the screenplay from her own play) drench the film in the area's nature. Time seems to move slower, and the pacing adjusts itself to match. Moroever, there is a forced quirkiness to the characters, more an artificial invention of the script rather than a natural outflow of the personalities. Most of the film serves to show life on the outskirts of Taos rather than act out a plot.

The Grodens, Charley, Arlene, and Bo, live out on a small farm. They are not rich, but are happy. They spend their days farming or rummaging through the junkyard looking for goods. Charley (Sam Elliott, Hulk, We Were Soldiers) is undergoing a serious bout of depression. He sits around crying all day, and this is seriously affecting his wife Arlene (Joan Allen, The Bourne Supremacy, The Notebook) and daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis). They try to figure out ways to cure Charley, but none seem to work. Life changes for them with the appearance of IRS auditor William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost, Affliction, Far Harbor). The Grodens have not paid taxes for years, and Gibbs (who spent a few days trying to find them) is there to set things right. The Grodens get the best of Gibbs, as he falls ill after a bee sting and they tend him back to health.

Life out in Taos is something new for him, and he is fascinated with how they manage to survive with little money. He ends up staying with them, and slowly falling in love with their way of live. As Gibbs learns to appreciate things out there, so does the viewer. There is something very appealing about the natural, barebones DIY ethic that the Grodens have. Gibbs finds an entirely new outlet for his energy, and this is the point (far into the running time) where a story emerges. However, Scott spend far too much time on setting the pacing and tone.

Off the Map looks great, but is empty for far too long. There are beautiful long shots of the New Mexico desert and the Groden farm. But the way that Scott imposes the quirkiness upon his characters does detract a little from them. Bo is one of those precocious young women always found in movies. She wants a credit card, hunts with rifles and bow and arrow, is ringmaster of an imaginary circus, and good at pilfering information from the people around her. When Gibbs appears, Arlene and Charley are walking around naked, something Bo says they do sometimes (but only this time in the story). Their quirks are not natural offshoots of who they are, but simply convenient plot points to garner a laugh or make Gibbs feel uneasy.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG-13 for nudity and thematic elements.

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