screenplay by Joan Ackerman, based on her play
directed by Campbell Scott
by Walter Chaw Campbell Scott's Off the Map reminds me of some dimly-remembered authors I used to read when I was younger: Harper Lee, maybe Tony Hillerman in a contemplative mood--alien cultures and modes of thought set to soothing rhythms against a saguaro sunset. More to the point, the film resembles the book its characters read to each other by lamplight: Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s wonderful Two Years Before the Mast, which I first read when a beloved professor recommended it as a corollary to Melville's Moby Dick and a primer for Patrick O'Brian (due to receive his own adaptation with this holiday's Master and Commander). Off the Map is a look at the nautical life and the contemplative philosophy that evolves from it, the ocean tied to the desert in a word and watercolour by William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost) and cemented in the gift of a boat from young daughter Bo (Valentina de Angelis) to depressed father Charley (Sam Elliott). The picture is a wonderfully off-kilter character drama and the kind of movie directed by a man with the sensitivity to cut on a swallow; even if it never quite escapes its theatrical roots, the picture has the poetry to score a love scene with a house settling in a desert breeze, understands the power of uncommented-upon sunsets, and mentions a dead goat named "Harry Dean Stanton." It's about art as a conduit to the sublime, pure and prevailing, created of a moment but eternally relevant, and so Off the Map is also about the creative process--the rationale for making a film that is personal and passionate. Understated, intimate, Off the Map feels a little like the art of Egon Schiele (and so reflected in Gibbs's paintings): melancholy, lost, but looking. Originally published: October 16, 2003.