The Way Home tells "the true story" of the Simpkins family, a couple in the Deep South that one day loses their two-year-old son on their 80-acre farm. Over the course of a remarkable day, municipal search and rescue teams join forces with the sheriff's office, news crews, family friends, and scores of complete strangers to comb hundreds of acres of surrounding forested farm land in a hunt for the missing child. The closer it gets to dark, of course, the chances of finding the child alive diminish rapidly.
I know, I know... we've all heard that "based on a true story" line so often it has almost become meaningless, particularly in light of the last decade or so of "reality" TV. Even with unscripted shows, we know that storylines are juiced and manipulated; so how 'real" can a non-documentary feature film be?
It Is Our Story
Well, get this. Randy and Christal Simpkins, the subjects of the film, have cameo appearances in the film in other roles. The film was shot on the actual locations where the events occurred. The cast stayed in the Simpkins' home while shooting. When we hear in one of the disc's excellent special features that one of the searchers was "off to the left" of his father, well, in the film he was also... guess what? Off to the left of his father. Writer, producer, and director Lance W. Dreesen has done a remarkable job of adapting this film in a way that, as near as I can tell, hews almost unbelievably close to the actual events. When the real Randy Simpkins remarks, "The Way Home doesn't tell our story; it is our story," the assertion is completely credible.
Remember that, as critics, my wife Jenn and I are rarely in a position to "willingly suspend our disbelief," even when we just watch a movie "for fun." Countless are the times we've started to screen a movie and then just turned it off because it's lost us for any of a number of reasons. So when we start a movie, our B.S. Meter is pitched high. It never peeped once during this film, in spite of the usual handful of clunky performances from minor characters that you find in low-budget indies.
In the lead roles, Dean Cain and Mary Beth Edgeman are not only serviceable and credible; they are flawless. You believe them as a couple having real-life versions of Dick Van Dyke Show petty marital squabbles. You understand the emotional roller coaster they ride through that day as the loss of their son proves the catalyst to bring them closer together, and closer to God. They are the perfect tinsel-townish counterparts to the real Randy and Christal, the ideal audience connection point with this very moving and affecting story.
And wherever Dreesen found the toddler who plays the two-year-old Joe Simpkins, well... can that effort just be cloned every time a near-infant has to carry a classic supporting role in a feature film? I'm serious. Nominate the very young Pierce Gagnon for an indie-film, direct-to-DVD Oscar.
Can't Hardly Go Wrong
If you have the slightest interest in watching a film that speaks volumes about faith and the power of America's heartland—minus car chases, explosions, and gratuitous sex—you can't hardly go wrong with The Way Home. With this film, Rust, and Like Dandelion Dust, small faith films have had quite a trifecta the second half of 2010. That bodes very well for 2011... and beyond.
And can other DVD releases please, please, please take lessons from Lionsgate about putting bonus features on their releases? You will want to watch the featurettes released with The Way Home. Trust me.
The Way Home is unrated. Aside from some very intense emotional sequences somewhere a couple steps below Bambi, there's absolutely nothing to worry about in the way of content here. Put your mind at ease and press the play button.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of The Way Home.