Peter Fonda’s good performance is the star of this otherwise slow moving drama about a man’s struggle to draw his family together amid adversity.
Fonda portrays Ulee Jackson (short for Ulysses), a widowed beekeeper who is raising his two granddaughters (Jessica Biel and Vanessa Zima) on his own. His son, Jimmy (Tom Wood), their father, is in jail, and their mother, Helen (Christine Dunford) has disappeared. They life a quiet life in rural Florida, distancing themselves from outsiders, even new neighbor Connie Hope (Patricia Richardson).
However, things change when Ulee gets a call from his son, pleading for a visit. Jimmy has heard from his old partners in crime, Eddie and Ferris (Steven Flynn and Dewey Weber). They have found Helen, and she is in bad shape. Jimmy asks his father to go to Orlando to get her back. Ulee reluctantly agrees, but discovers that the villainous Eddie and Ferris have other plans.
Director Victor Nunez guides this film with a slow and steady hand, perhaps a bit too slow and steady. There are times when the film almost borders on becoming a documentary on beekeeping. However, Nunez does have a story to tell, and he does eventually get around to it.
The fact that the story resonates so strongly is due primarily to Fonda. His Ulee is stubborn but practical. His livelihood and family are slowly being eroded beneath him, but he accepts it with calm grace and does whatever he can to improve the situation.
His is a powerful character, and you wish that a stronger film could have been built around him. The conflicts within Ulee’s family play all right, but his troubles with Ferris and Eddie seem to have been plucked out of a different film. It is obvious that writer/director Nunez is not as comfortable with this subplot, and the strain shows. Even it’s conclusion shows little sign of the care lavished on the rest of the production.
Ulee’s Gold is certainly a mixed bag, though Fonda’s finely shaded performance weighs things a bit in his favor, and the movies. Even at its worst, it makes a welcome diversion from the summer’s big budget action extravaganzas.