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‘Still Mine’ depicts a love built to last

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Craig James Cromwell

Irene Genevieve Bujold

Gary Campbell Scott

Chester George R. Robertson

John Rick Roberts

Ruth Julie Stewart

Samuel Goldwyn Films presents a film written and directed by Michael McGowan. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity). Opening Friday at Landmark Century and Landmark Renaissance Place.

Updated: August 27, 2013 6:05AM

Affable, folksy and often a salt-of-the-earth type, James Cromwell exudes supreme confidence, whether the situation involves a farmer doling out advice to wayward porkers (the “Babe” films) or a defeated senator working on domestic policy with his willful daughters (the little-seen CBS series “Citizen Baines”).

So when he ambles into the opening frames of “Still Mine,” it’s immediately apparent, from his Lincolnesque demeanor and quiet authority, that he represents the wisdom of the ages. Based on a true story, the film equates rugged individualism with a stand for personal dignity and control of one’s own destiny.

Craig Morrison (Cromwell), a strawberry farmer, lives on 2,000 bucolic acres in New Brunswick with wife Irene (Genevieve Bujold). After 61 years of marriage and seven children, the octogenarians are hoping to spend the rest of their twilight years together. But then big government comes calling.

When Irene, showing signs of dementia, falls down the stairs, Craig decides to build a smaller, more navigable home on their property. Using the carpentry skills passed down by his father, a shipbuilder, Craig begins construction, even though he’s warned by best pal Chester that “no one over 72 belongs on a ladder.”

Soon his safety is the least of his concerns; he becomes the target of an overzealous building inspector over his failure to obtain a building permit, file acceptable blueprints and comply with other regulatory matters. Craig, who’s been doing things the old-fashioned way for all of his 87 years, doesn’t understand why some bureaucrat should interfere with what’s best for him and his wife.

Some have accused writer-director Michael McGowan of promoting libertarian principles in “Still Mine” as a tonic to excessive regulation, but it seems unlikely that the auteur behind such quirky indies as “My Dog Vincent” (1998) and “Score! A Hockey Musical” (2010) has the tenets of Ron Paul on the brain.

Besides, the film gives its heart over to Craig and Irene, whose love remains undiminished, in sickness and in failing health. “Age is just an abstraction, not a straitjacket,” he tells her, as she peers through a fog of increasing senility.

“Still Mine” invites facile comparisons to the similarly themed “Amour” (2011), and “Away From Her” (2006), which also address the ravages of old age. But these comparisons just emphasize how invisible the elderly are in current cinema.

Now in their early 70s, Cromwell and Bujold (as illuminous as ever) are too young for their roles. But kudos to McGowan for casting Cromwell and giving this often-unsung actor a long-overdue chance to move up from the supporting ranks. He savors every moment, commanding the screen with the sincerity of James Stewart and the magnetism of Ronald Colman (two golden-era stars memorably directed by his father, filmmaker John Cromwell). He skillfully delivers several poignant monologues, including a meditation on how a hand-crafted pine table reflects the beauty of age.

Despite an ominous beginning, with Craig called before a judge and facing possible imprisonment, a happy ending seems to be a certainty (the real Craig Morrison lived to 93, with Irene, in the house he built for her). But it never stoops to Hallmark Channel-style sentimentality, and the film looks glorious, full of Canadian sunsets and verdant landscapes, lushly photographed by Brendan Steacy (“Small Town Murder Songs”).

In a summer populated with comic-book superheroes, ersatz “Transformer” types and stupid buddy comedies, “Still Mine” lets viewers spend some quality time with real humans for a change.

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