Smith’s Verdict: Tanner Smith reviews Sarah Jones’ John Wayne’s BedJune 20, 2012
John Wayne’s Bed
More from Tanner Smith, whom we hope will become a regular contributor to these pages. John Wayne’s Bed screened at the recent Little Rock Film Festival.
By Tanner Smith
The short drama John Wayne’s Bed, right at the beginning, is said to be “inspired by a true story.” And whenever I see that subtitle in a movie, I get cynical — that’s even how I felt before I watched “War Eagle, Arkansas.” It’s just the sudden feeling of manipulation and heavy handedness (movies like Amelia and — sue me — The Blind Side come to mind). But like War Eagle, John Wayne’s Bed treats its subject material, as well as its audience, with enough respect that it doesn’t have to succumb to heavy dramatic clichés just to make us care. It just effectively tells the story. The acting is great, the cinematography is nice, the dramatic elements are well-handled, and it’s over in just 20 minutes.
John Wayne’s Bed is writer-director Sarah Jones’ thesis film for the University of Central Arkansas Digital Filmmaking Master of Fine Arts Program, but according to Jones in the “Indiegogo” blog supporting the film, it means a lot more to her than receiving her Master’s degree. The story behind the film is based upon her father’s friend who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and made the most of his final days with his love for life and the help of his friends. Jones stated, “Even before I started studying filmmaking, I knew that this was a film that I needed to make.”
The film stars Alan Rackley as Allen, an Arkansan man who loves to hunt and fish and doesn’t let his disease slow him down. His best friend (Bob Boaz) helps him and accompanies him on the outdoor activities, and his wife (Angela Woods) provides for him, though she states that it’s getting more difficult to handle because he’s unable to perform most daily activities. Allen knows he’ll never be independent and he’ll most likely die soon, but his stubbornness and optimism keeps him going.
Allen’s luck picks up when he is accepted into a hunting program for mobility-impaired people. Accompanied by his wife and friend, he lives the perfect hunting trip for him—he has a rifle that doesn’t require pulling the trigger (there’s a tube he can blow into that fires the weapon) and even gets to sleep in John Wayne’s bed.
The approach that Jones took to this story is wonderful. This story is told in a moving but never condescending way, and it flows smoothly as we get from this setup at Allen’s home to his “dream-come-true” at the cabin. The actors do great jobs in defining these characters. By the time this film is over, we have spent twenty minutes in the company of real people. John Wayne’s Bed is a wonderful film.
Smith’s Verdict: ★★★★