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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Shiloh

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Rod Steiger
Director: Dale Rosenbloom
Rated: PG
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: April 1997
Genres: Drama, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Blake Heron, Scott Wilson

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

11-year-old Marty Preston has a predicament. Since his family has had to mortgage the house to pay the doctor bills of his recently deceased grandmother, his dad does not look kindly on the idea of adding a canine member to the family. ("No dog, no way.") Even if Marty could come up with the money to buy one, his dad complains that there are still the food, the shots, and the doctor visits that the dog would require.

To further complicate matters, Marty has set his heart on the unobtainable. He knows a local redneck hunter, Judd Travers, who abuses his friendly beagle for not responding quick enough. This nameless dog -- Judd only gives his dogs numbers -- has been christened Shiloh by Marty, and the animal has won Marty's heart. Judd believes the dog will be a great hunting dog so he refuses to part with him for any amount.

First-time writer and director Dale Rosenbloom's film SHILOH garnered rave reviews when it was released earlier this year. As a film critic, I understand the marketing of non-family films -- I can't say adult films since the pornography industry has absconded with that moniker -- but the marketing and distribution of family films continues to baffle me. After these sterling reviews, Warner Brothers chose to give the movie only a limited release. After missing such major markets as California's Silicon Valley, they gave up on the film and sent it to video. With mediocre products such as THAT DARN CAT, A SIMPLE WISH and GONE FISHIN' getting a wide distribution, why couldn't they have promoted an intelligent family film? Doesn't quality count for something?

SHILOH is a richly textured film populated with completely believable family and friends. It even has a villain worth hating and yet sympathetic too. And then there is the dog. Shiloh has a metronome for a tail, a sweet, slobbery tongue, big soulful eyes, playfully floppy ears and an intense loyalty.

Judd, played with crusty demeanor by Scott Wilson, was whipped by his father from age four. Judd makes his living by hunting, mainly illegally, and views his dogs as little more that the tools of his trade. Since he is single, he abuses them as his father abused him. In the backwoods town of West Virginia where the story takes place, this rings true.

After a wounded Shiloh shows up again at his house, Marty, played with touching sincerity by Blake Heron, devises a scheme whereby he will hide Shiloh and find enough odd jobs to secure the money for his purchase. The fatal flaw, of course, is that Judd has no intention of ever parting with the dog, regardless of the price.

In less capable hands than Rosenbloom's the film could easily have dissolved into maudlin cliches. The smartly written script makes for a warm hearted and realistic tale. Typical of the film's strengths are the depths of the supporting cast. Michael Moriarty plays Marty's father as a stubborn and controlling parent, but one with a sweetness just below the surface. His mother, played by Ann Dowd, works hard to earn extra money. The battles between the parents, both on and off screen, avoids the overacting usually found in disagreements among parents in films.

Easily the biggest surprise in the picture is Rod Steiger's heartwarming role as Doc Wallace, the local doctor and general store owner. Doc is the grandfather and guardian of Marty's girlfriend Sam, played by J. Madison Wright. Sam has a big crush on Marty but manages to hide it most of the time as they pal around. When she steals the inevitable kiss, he acts like he hates it.

The script is full of homilies inserted so naturally that you don't realize they are present. "Don't ever run away from a problem," advises the father. "Sometimes the biggest test of love is how much you're willing to fight for it," says the Doc.

Cinematographer Frank Byers shot the film in warm nostalgic shades of browns and golds. Amy B. Ancona's sets are evocative without ever being overloaded with gaudy country nicknacks. And Joel Goldsmith's music has a wonderful dreaminess to it.

The film has a long and completely plausible resolution of the conflict, but it seems at first to lack the tension needed to make it compelling. A twist towards the end changes everything. The result is a completely satisfying picture with a touching little story, nicely resolved.

SHILOH runs just 1:33. It is rated PG for mild violence. The show would be excellent for kids six and up. Younger ones might have trouble with the couple of scenes of a dog being kicked. My son Jeffrey, age 8, liked the film "very much," but added that it would not make his best of the year list. I recommend this fine film to your family and give it ***.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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