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Movie Review: Middle of Nowhere

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Quiet but compelling, emotionally buttoned-up and naked at the same time, Ava DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere, opening in limited release Friday, October 12, is a film about holding still while trying to move forward.

It's not an easy trick; indeed, it's impossible. Which is what the film's central character, Ruby (newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi, in a breakthrough performance), discovers.

She doesn't know it at first. She is trying to hold it together -- to put a pin in her life while her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is in prison. She believes that she can put the world on hold and wait out her husband's eight-year stretch -- five, with good behavior. She is convinced that, if she's there every day when he calls and visits him every week (despite the four-hour round trip from L.A. to the prison at Victorville), she can shore up his spirits, help him keep his head down, serve his time and get out to resume their life together.

That patience is admirable. But Ruby's conviction that she can keep the world at arm's length is a mistaken one. Still, the film focuses on her heroic struggle to do just that, in this sharply etched and moving story.

Derek is, according to his lawyer, a small fish in a large ring -- not drugs but, perhaps, moving stolen goods or guns, since the arrest scene involves agents from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; we never learn exactly. But Ruby is convinced that he's not that guy, that he got caught up in something and has learned his lesson. So she's willing to wait for him.

A registered nurse who has been admitted to medical school, Ruby puts her plans to be a doctor on hold. She will keep working as a nurse, talk to him daily, visit him weekly -- and get him through this so they can get a fresh start when he gets out.

Her life is circumscribed by those circumstances. She works nights (so she can be there when he calls during the day). She rides the bus to and from work (and attracts the attention of a bus driver, Brian, played by David Oyelowo), living in a tight little bubble that includes her mother (Lorraine Toussaint), her sister (Edwina Findley) and her unmarried sister's young son.

Derek is another story -- but which story is it?

This review continues on my website.