James Cromwell spent the first 20 years of his career doing guest spots and small recurring roles on television, picking up minor credits in seemingly every major television series of the ’70s and ’80s. Even as late as 1989, Cromwell was still getting credits like “Motel Desk Clerk” on his big-screen resume.
Cromwell got a break of sorts in 1995's Babe, a little movie that could in which he played Farmer Hoggett opposite the film's titular pig. This breakout was followed soon after by the role of police captain Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential. Two roles that finally established Cromwell as a notable supporting player on the big screen.
Now, at age 73, Cromwell finally gets a spotlight in his first big-screen starring role as Craig Morrison, a proud farmer and husband in rural Canada in writer-director Michael McGowan's modest indie Still Mine.
The film is the story of a long-married couple dealing with one spouse's mental decline. As such, it has strong company in a couple of other notable recent films — Michael Hankie’s Oscar-feted Amour, which opened in Memphis earlier this year, and fellow Canadian Sarah Polly’s 2006 debut Away From Her. (Why do all of these films feature a still-sound husband caring for a declining wife rather than the other way around?)
Still Mine is not filmmaking or acting of quite the same wattage, but it is still a sturdy, worthwhile film. Based on a true story, Cromwell plays a New Brunswick farmer and woodworker who decides to build a new house for his wife (Genevieve Bujold) when he decides their current, two-story home is no longer safe for her. The son of a shipbuilder who has done carpentry his whole life, Morrison fights against local bureaucracy and its demand for fees, plans, and codes to meet this goal.
The man-against-the-system stuff here is satisfying in a perfunctory way. More affecting is the chemistry between Cromwell and Bujold (an Oscar nominee for 1969's Anne of a Thousand Days), who portray a couple that has built something special over the course of a long, cozy, resourceful life together.