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The Space Between

by on October 11, 2010
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Click here for showtimes for “The Space Between”

A heartfelt, tender drama, “The Space Between” relies on a deft touch and a powerful performance from Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) to manage a story that touches on not one, but two major US disasters without leaving the audience feeling exploited.

Little Omar (Anthony Keyvan) is a smart boy, so smart that a posh private boarding school offers him a full ride. Omar’s father Maliq (Phillip Rhys) is a New York cabbie with a couple of jobs, and is determined to give his son a decent life. When this opportunity presents itself, Maliq’s fierce devotion as a parent compels him to put his son on a plane to Los Angeles.

Enter Montine McLeod, a tired, haggard flight attendant with a sick mom and the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s bitter, and rightly so, at her lot in life, and isn’t the most pleasant person to be around.

Neither Omar nor Montine are especially thrilled to be on the plane, and its only when trouble occurs that we discover our film’s date: September 11, 2001.

Omar is a Muslim, and at the time of the attacks, Maliq should have been at his day job in the World Trade Center.

With subject matter such as this, it would be easy to take the cheap route, but writer/director Travis Fine focuses on the logistics of surviving the day. Montine knows she has to get Omar back to New York to find his father, but air travel is shut down, rental cars are impossible to find, and her bosses are too busy to notice what happens to one boy and one flight attendant.

But the film’s real victory isn’t in the drama, it’s in the message it presents to another major disaster. When she overhears someone saying they’ll never forget this day, she wonders aloud whether that’s true. “April 19, 1995,” she says. “What happened that day?” I’ll admit when she said it in the film I knew what she was talking about, but I had to look the date up to include it in this review. Do you know that day’s significance?

That day ties into a stunning message that we like to think we remember 9/11 because it was a horrible disaster, but perhaps our memories are more trendy and made-for-TV than we will admit, because what happened April 19 was every bit as tragic and devastating to the nation, but for whatever reason–the lack of an identifiable enemy, a somewhat less-aggressive media, or perhaps because it came at the hands of one of our own–we don’t talk about it so much.

Leo is tremendous as Montine, and her exterior, varnished by years of bitterness, belies a gooey inside. She gels wonderfully with Keyvan’s traumatized youngster, a bond that cements when some toughs in a bar eye the young Muslim boy with disdain.

AnnaSophia Robb (“Race to Witch Mountain”) puts in a strong performance as Montine’s rebellious niece who begrudgingly befriends Omar, and Hunter Parrish (TV’s “Weeds”) plays a friend of hers who crosses paths with Omar.

If you’re going to see one movie at the Heartland Film Festival, you could certainly do much worse than choosing “The Space Between.” It’s a tender, affecting, hard-hitting wake-up call to narrow-minded “patriots,” and is a fitting tribute to victims of two heinous attacks, one of which we’ve pledged to never forget, the other we didn’t bother to remember.