Sept. 11 casts a long shadow over Into The Fire, a moody, pretentious drama that seems to exist in the eerie post-9/11 period before people realized it wasn't callous or disrespectful to the dead to experience emotions other than grief. It's a film that lingers in a deep funk throughout, lightening up only for a happy ending as incongruous as it is unearned.
David Cassidy look-alike Sean Patrick Flanery stars as a tormented New York Harbor Squad lieutenant who begins to lose his fragile grasp on mental health when he fails to save a beautiful woman after her jumbo jet crashes. Flanery seeks out the woman's similarly grief-stricken sister (Melina Kanakaredes) while also beginning a soothing, therapeutic friendship with a maternal grandmother (JoBeth Williams) whose beloved firefighter son died on 9/11. Like Atom Egoyan's Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, Into The Fire is about people in mourning trying desperately to connect with each other, but brushing up against firewalls of resistance. Yet it never finds a satisfying way to express that resonant theme. The main problem: The three main characters do nothing but suffer. Instead of plausible human beings, they're just empty vessels for mourning, and instead of genuine motivation, writer-director Michael Phelan slathers on the cheap Freudianism, most glaringly in a subplot involving Flanery's need to have a buddy drop him off in the middle of the water every year on his birthday as an act of penance for the grief he feels over his sister's drowning death. Such heavy-handed psychology would be downright insufferable even as subtext, but Into The Fire drags it out into the cruel light of day, where it flops around haplessly like a fish out of water.
At least Into The Fire can't be accused of misleading audiences. From its overwrought opening narration to early shots of an empty Ferris wheel, it promises to be a dour, pretentious, humorless time-waster, and it doggedly makes good on that promise.