Ulee's Gold

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Ulee's Gold is a 1997 film released by Orion Pictures. It was written and directed by Victor Nunez, and stars Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Christine Dunford, Tom Wood, Jessica Biel, J. Kenneth Campbell, Steven Flynn, Dewey Weber, and Vanessa Zima.

Fonda plays Ulee (short for Ulysses) Jackson, a Vietnam vet widower and grandfather, beekeeper by profession, who raises two granddaughters because his son is in prison and daughter-in-law has run away to a druggie's existence. The son implores him to look for his wife and bring her home; the film shows Ulee holding the family together and attempting to protect them from two young criminals, associates of his son, who come looking for a hidden stash of cash. The movie is calculatedly slow, being entirely keyed to the character of Ulee, who has suppressed all his natural emotions in order to cope with the difficult circumstances of his life. Ulee is all pent-up but when he vents his emotions, he never goes over the top or gets too histrionic (a more flamboyant actor might not have resisted the urge).

The movie is a family drama that seems somewhat old-fashioned, particularly when we remember Fonda's rebellious youth persona from The Wild Angels (1966) and Easy Rider (1969). Unlike those films, Ulee's Gold upholds family values and responsibility, stressing the virtue of hard work, its ultimate moral being that there are no short cuts to riches (or perhaps, more to the point, to success in living). The title is slightly ironic since the plot has do with the money hidden in Ulee's beeyard; in fact it refers to the golden honey that Ulee harvests. The title also implies a sense of community -- the message being that one can reach out in times of need -- contradicting the image of the lonely protagonist that Fonda's persona tends to enforce. Fonda's performance was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Van Morrison sings "Tupelo Honey" over the end credits.

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