Patricia Clarkson - Wikimedia
I was not familiar with Patricia Clarkson before viewing “October Gale,” but I was highly impressed with her performance. Given a poor script with an imprecise plot, she managed to salvage the film just by her presence.
“October Gale” is classified as a thriller but that depends on your own sensitivity to events which may or may not produce apprehension when viewing a fictional piece. The movie was filmed in Toronto and Georgian Bay, Ontario, an area with breathtaking scenery, which provided another positive experience for the viewer.
We are introduced to Helen Matthews (Patricia Clarkson) whose husband James died unexpectedly in the past year. They had been married for 32 years, and we meet James (Callum Keith Rennie) only in flashbacks which reveal that they were a happily married couple with a grown son.
Lake Scene - Wikimedia
The Matthews’ have a cottage on an island in Georgian Bay which has been in James’ family for decades. Helen and James used it for weekend getaways and loved the area. Helen, a medical doctor, decided to open the cottage earlier this year for the first time since James died. She preferred to go alone even though her son Henry objected.
At the cottage, of course there is no dialogue as Helen works to restore the light and heat. However, Patricia Clarkson’s bearing and comportment tell a story as we watch her face and take in her movements. She throws out old magazines, photos, clothing, and items in the cabin that she wants to get rid of. She also touches and examines some items. We sense that she is quietly grieving.
When Helen takes their boat out, she gets to the middle of the lake before the engine conks out. Fortunately, she has her cellphone with her and calls the local handyman, Al, to bring her and the boat back in.
Scott Speedman - Wikimedia
When she is safely back in the cottage, she is shocked to find a stranger stretched on her living room floor, unconscious. His shoulder is bloody, and Helen works on him to extract the bullet and bind up his wound. The stranger, whose name is Will (Scott Speedman) is at first loathe to speak about his situation, but Helen is aware that she is in the presence of a man whom somebody wanted to kill. She told him he had to leave, but a storm was heading their way. Will tried to leave but was too weak and had to return.
They whiled away their time playing euchre and getting to know one another. Will finally revealed that he killed a man accidentally in a bar fight five years ago, and just recently got out of prison. The man’s unforgiving father came after Will and would not rest until he got his revenge by killing Will.
Al returned after fixing Helen’s boat and noticed the stranger in the cottage. When Al left, Will warned Helen that the man recognized him and that his killer would be back to make good his promise to Will. Through the window, they spotted Al removing Helen’s and Will’s boats from their moorings, leaving them without any means to get back to the mainland. Helen ran down to the dock to save her boat from drifting away, and almost drowned. Will, in his weakened condition, still managed to bring her back to the dock. They both realized that they would have to remove the dock so that any visitor would find it impossible to anchor his boat.
After hearing noises, Helen and Will thought it would be better for them to find shelter in the woods outside, and Helen brought along her shotgun for added protection. They separated for added safety, but Helen is accosted by the man who is looking for Will. He managed to knock her down and seized her gun. He then forced her back up the hill to the cottage.
Tim Roth - Wikimedia
The intruder introduces himself as Tom (Tim Roth) and tells Helen that he had taken Will away from a bad situation when he was just a boy, and gave him a home as a companion to his own son. He loved Will, but could not forgive him for killing his son, even though Will claimed it was accidental.
At this point, the viewer is stunned at the next occurrence. It makes no sense that Al enters the cottage only to be shot by Tom. C’mon! The astonishment continues when Will, having heard the shot ring out, returns to the cottage.
The plot is so flawed that the reader will have to decide how and why the situation came to such a head. Or perhaps the reader might opt not to watch the film in the first place.
And that is not all! It is obvious that Helen is at least fifteen years older than Will. Yet, the screenwriters intimate very cautiously in the final scenes that the duo are attracted to one another, and are probably going to continue on with their friendship.
I repeat that the best parts of this film are the wonderful acting by Patricia Clarkson and the stunning outdoor scenes of Georgian Bay, which are extended as the final film credits are shown.