Travis Fine's well-meaning examination of 9/11 and two specific individuals on the day of the event is filled with good ideas and accomplished performances. It's easy to admire the more intimate and personal approach and to see the event unfold through a very focused viewpoint. And for the most part, it works well. Fine has had the good sense to cast a no-nonsense Melissa Leo is the title role, and she has an edgy energy and hands-off demeanor that keeps the film from descending too far into overt sentimentalism. I think that's why I admired the film as much as I did. It maintained a surprisingly hard edge where other movies would have opted for a different route to completely (and continually) manipulate your emotions. I mean, who doesn't well up with intense feelings just thinking about the day? I hate movies that explicitly use those pre-existing emotions to bludgeon the viewers as opposed to developing a story or characters that actually elicit genuine concern and involvement. That said, I was invested in the primary duo at the heart of "The Space Between."
The story revolves around Leo as a airline attendant. When her flight is grounded due to the national tragedy, she finds herself responsible for an unaccompanied minor in the chaos. When the boy, who happens to be Muslim, reveals a personal connection to the event--Leo embarks to get him back to New York City despite the fact that the country is practically shut down. The two then set forth on a road trip that will push the two disparate personalities into close quarters and mutual understanding (complete with learning moments and the expected intolerance). A lot of what drives this central relationship and, indeed, the primary plot is based on huge coincidences that detract from the naturalistic storytelling. But credit Leo and an affecting Anthony Keyvan for keeping things real. The road trip concept has become such a tired idea for bringing different people together, but it still works due to the commitment of the lead performances. Of course, before all is said and done, the film will tug at your heartstrings, but it earns your emotional investment as you've come to care about the characters.
Leo's character is a fascinating mess. She imbues the film with an unpredictability that it undoubtedly needed. I might be the only person in the world who thinks her Oscar-winning mama in "The Fighter" was completely over-the-top, but here she does what she does best. She creates a deeply flawed multi-dimensional character that is just mesmerizing. Keyvan, with his calm presence, balances the film nicely. I certainly don't think that "The Space Between" is a perfect film. Elements of it are too convenient, too expected, too set-up. But in reality, I didn't really mind. This was a journey worth taking and, despite my reservations, I found it to be a thoughtful and heartfelt movie. I hope it finds a broader audience on the DVD market because I think it deserves to be seen! KGHarris, 12/11.