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A Home Run in "Touching Home"

Ed Harris hits one out of the park

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"The world breaks everyone," Ernest Hemingway wrote. "And afterward many are strong in the broken places." Touching Home is a film of strength because it will break your heart, mend it and break it again.

It's no coincidence that Touching Home opens at Flicks on Father's Day weekend. It is a movie about the difference between being a father and being a dad and how that redefines two sons' love for their father. It is a film that considers the surest measures of a man.

The behind-the-scenes story of how Touching Home made its way to the screen would make a pretty good movie itself. Identical twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller had no contacts, no experience and no money. Yet 17 credit cards later, they had lured a cast and crew (boasting a combined 11 Academy Awards and 26 nominations) and had written, produced, directed and starred in one of the best movies of the year. Rumor has it that the brothers Miller ambushed Ed Harris in a San Francisco alley.

"They were talking nonstop," Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle. The Millers laid their laptop on a garbage bin and showed Harris a makeshift trailer for the proposed film.

"They told me about their dad and said I was the only guy to do this," Harris told the Chronicle.

His unflinching portrait of Charlie Winston, the character based on the Millers' father, validates the brothers' persistence. And Harris shouldn't make any plans for Feb. 27, 2011: This performance will likely earn Harris his fifth Oscar nomination.

Casting themselves as leads in their own movie could have proven disastrous for the Miller twins, but their performances are tested by nuance and passion with equal measure. The story follows them from their childhood dreams of playing professional baseball to disappointment in returning to their Northern California hometown of Fairfax to work in the same stone quarry as their failure of a father.

This is no simple memoir. The Millers' story takes no prisoners and their journey is redemptive but painful. By the way, these guys can play ball. Hollywood has time and again cast leading men (Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Gary Cooper) who are embarrassingly inept at baseball to play baseball heroes. But the Millers can throw and field like pros.

But this is Harris' movie. His portrayal of the alcoholic Charlie is never formulaic. Broken and bowed, he's lost in unblinking sunken stares while his legs shift with delicate twitches. He knows the consequences of his addiction but never understands them, and even when he scrubs himself clean, he's bathed in shame and disappointment. It is a master class in acting.

The supporting cast offers additional surprises. The always reliable Robert Forster plays the local constable with a gentle touch. Brad Dourif plays the boys' simple Uncle Clyde, in his best performance in decades. And then there's the big-screen debut of Ishiah Benben as Logan's romantic interest.

But maybe the best co-star of Touching Home is the cinematography. Director of photography Ricardo Jacques Gale frames rural Northern California with beauteous care: Scenes are lit with warm twilights and actors are bathed in shadows of late summer. Touching Home always feels and looks authentic and I can't wait to see again--even though it already broke my heart once.