On its surface, The Space Between sounds like an interesting concept for a film. Montine McLeod (Melissa Leo) is an alcoholic flight attendant whose husband died in the Oklahoma City bombing. The tragedy has left her alone, desperate and agitated. There’s not much she likes in life, and it seems the only reason she keeps her jet-setting job is because it gives her something to do.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Montine takes another flight, and she counts herself among the lucky ones that day. Her flight was forced to land in Houston, the reason for the sudden change still unclear. After she realizes what has happened in New York City, Montine does what she does best: takes a swig of some alcohol from the mini bottles she gives to passengers. Amidst her growing intoxication, she realizes there’s someone still on the disembarked plane, a small boy by the name of Omar Hassan (Anthony Keyvan).
This boy, who was traveling by himself, is scared about the news of Sept. 11. He’s a devout Muslim, and his father sometimes works at the World Trade Center. The 10-year-old was on his way to Los Angeles to a prestigious private school, his entrance secured by a full scholarship. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Montine takes Omar under her wing and decides to drive him back to New York City.
As a concept, The Space Between works nicely. It serves as an often touching microcosm of American life after the terrorist attacks. The problem — and it’s a big one — is that the the movie takes place in the hours and days following the tragedy, a time period filled with anxiety, worry and constant questioning. The script, written by director Travis Fine, feels too removed from that fateful day, almost like it’s a person writing 10 years after the fact. The “post-9/11” environment didn’t sink in immediately, so many of the images in the 86-minute movie feel oddly out of place.
For example, Omar is constantly ridiculed for his practicing of the Islam faith. At one point, a bus driver asks the child to leave the vehicle if he is going to kneel on the floor and pray. Montine supports the kid, and they find a different means of transportation to New York City. The entire scene seems like a writing device to convey a certain message. Undoubtedly, prejudice was a reality in the days following the attacks, and continues to be for many Muslim Americans. But as presented in Omar’s life, it doesn’t feel real or true, which is a shame, because these are the types of stories that need to be told.
Leo’s performance is skillful, and she definitely proves time and time again that she knows how to portray real women who make difficult decisions in life. I still question her character’s motives in the movie. From the moment she disregards the advice of her superiors and brings the 10-year-old boy across the United States, I kept thinking she should be arrested for kidnapping. She doesn’t inform anyone of his whereabouts. She lies to her own employees on where he is being held. And, perhaps worst of all, she chugs alcohol and drives a car. Montine is not exactly the perfect guardian.
Keyvan is a true find at such a young age. The actor handles the heightened drama of the plot with ease, and his line deliveries are believable. As audience members, we hope that Omar’s father has survived the attacks, and this is largely a credit to Keyvan who makes us believe in his quest.
There’s an annoying side plot involving Montine’s brother and niece that feels like extra padding for the movie. It doesn’t add too much to the overall plot, except that we learn about the flight attendant’s husband and why she greets everyone with a gruff attitude. The interaction between Montine and Omar is much more interesting, and when the spotlight is taken off this odd relationship, the movie falters.
The independent film deserves commendation for its willingness to explore issues that are often left in the newspapers. The changing religious tolerance in the United States is a fascinating topic, one worthy of further exploration. The Space Between doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter, deciding to sidestep thoughtfulness for a manufactured storyline.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
The Space Between
Written and directed by Travis Fine
Starring Melissa Leo and Anthony Keyvan
Running time: 86 minutes