For The Moment

on April 19, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   "Life is always full of surprises," says Aussie airman Lachlan (Russell Crowe) as he nears the Canadian base at which he will commence his training to fly combat missions in World War II. "Especially with me at the controls." On the ground, he and flyboy pal Johnny (Peter Outerbridge) head out among the hayracks, where Johnny's farm-girl fiancee Kate (Sara McMillan) awaits. Waiting there is the first surprise: Lill (Christianne Hirt), a young married woman who is fighting the loneliness engendered by her husband being away to war. The second surprise is the troubled love that grows between the dashing Aussie and the pretty Canuck, one accustomed to playing the field and the other to faithfulness. Each knows, with the war also waiting for Lachlan, that their relationship is only "for the moment," but with so many lives being lost daily across the water even the momentary has become precious.
   Like another Far North import, 1993's far more exotic "Map of the Human Heart," For the Moment" makes a wartime romance its central story. Here, though, writer/director Aaron Kim Johnston ("The Last Winter") fashions a more homespun tale, but in classical dramatic fashion he adds a second subplot that (theoretically) comments on the first: Good-hearted pilot-school instructor Zeek (Scott Kraft) offers to marry a middle-aged prairie woman, Betsy (Wanda Cannon), whose no-good husband long ago left her to raise their two children alone. "I'm a woman with a history," Zeek is cautioned by Betsy, who is the woman that on-leave aviators go to when they're looking for booze and a broad. "I'm the one with a history," replies Zeek, pointing out that the bombs he'd dropped during his two tours of duty had killed hundreds of people. As the movie progresses, it sometimes seems to yearn to become their story, not only because that story exists independent of the main tale but also because Zeek and Betsy make for more complex characters; it's almost (but not quite) as if, being younger and prettier, Lahlan and Lill remain the focus because they're more photogenic. It doesn't help that Cannon's heart-rending work is the acting corps' highlight; her Betsy is good-willed and staunchly constituted, but a river of suffering runs deep in her. As Lachlan, Crowe--who rocketed to prominence with dynamic performances in "Proof" and "Romper Stomper"--offers a finely understated turn (similar to that of Tom Hanks in an analogous role in the 1986 Israeli film, "Every Time We Say Goodbye," in which outsider Hanks falls in love with a Sephardic Jewess.) However, TV actress Hirt, despite a cutely chunky beauty, rarely "fills the screen" the way a woman in despair should.
   Yet some scenes and their dialogue are electric with simple humanity. "We're running out of time, you know," Lachlan tells Lill. "We never really had any," she says. "We just stole it." And the denoument, in which Lill sees Lachlan for the last time, features what might be called the best woman-searching-for-her-lover-in-a-crowd moment since Diane Keaton waited near Warren Beatty's incoming train at the end of "Reds": Johnston places his camera motionless in front of Hirt's face, and her eyes sweep from side to side, yearning; with the added emotional impact of slow-motion photography and of Pachelbel's Canon on the soundtrack, her Lill seems imbrued with mournfulness, and in that moment she holds the screen indelibly.
   Still, "For the Moment," a movie about moments, is only made of them. As Lachlan's Havoc leaves the fertile plains of Manitoba behind as it flies out across Hudson Bay's cold gray waters headed toward England, audiences will have been taken with only fitful effectiveness back to 1942, among this century's darkest days. "There's no time left for dreams--we're almost out of night," Lill tells Lachlan as a dawn nears, and one wishes Johnston had been able to do even deeper dreaming before the house lights come up. Starring Russell Crowe, Christianne Hurt, Wanda Cannon and Scott Kraft. Directed and written by Aaron Kim Johnston. Produced by Jack Clements and Aaron Kim Johnston. A John Aaron Releasing release. Romance. Rated PG-13 for sexual situations, language and a poignant death. Running time: 118 min
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