In a revelatory performance, Peter Fonda plays a reserved Florida beekeeper with a troubled past who uses his taciturnity as a shield against the world. When a secret from his jailed son's criminal career surfaces, however, he is forced to confront the problem and reassess his withdrawal for the sake of his family. Director Victor Nuñez, who brought Ashley Judd to the world's attention with 1993's Ruby in Paradise, specializes in understated, carefully paced character studies—and Ulee's Gold, its unfortunate title aside, is an excellent example of how this sort of film should be done. Nuñez gives Fonda time to construct a complex character as much from habitual gestures and telling changes of expression as from dialogue. Though it occasionally wears its metaphors on its sleeve, Ulee's Gold should, if there's any justice, find the same thoughtful-drama-hungry audience that made Sling Blade a hit. Even better, it should allow Fonda, a hidden asset for too long, to have his pick of good roles in the years to come.
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