Union Bound (Uptone Pictures, Moving Box Entertainment, Weathervane, 2016)
Starring: Sean Stone, Randy Wayne, Tank Jones, Trish Cooks
Written by John Errington
Produced by Michael Davis
Directed by Harvey Lowry
The Civil War is a period of American history that is full of amazing stories waiting to be told. The four years between 1861-1865, in which 750,000 lives (New estimates based on recent research) were lost, has many tales of heroism, tragedy, comedy, and excitement. One such story is that of Joseph Hoover, a Union Sergeant from New York. Captured by Confederate troops during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, he was shipped off to Andersonville Prison in Georgia, before being transferred to other prisoner of war camps, before ultimately being taken to South Carolina. From that camp, he escapes with a soldier named Thomas Ryan, and with help of local slaves, makes his way back to the Union lines. He serves until the end of the war, is wounded, and eventually wins the Medal of Honor. The story of his capture and escape are the subject of the film Union Bound.
Beginning with the Wilderness fight, Union Bound focuses on the time in which Hoover (Sean Stone, son of filmmaker Oliver Stone) is taken to the prisoner camp in South Carolina, from which he makes his escape with Ryan (Randy Wayne), making their way toward Union-controlled New Bern, North Carolina. Along the way, they are aided by several slaves, including Jim (Tank Jones), who ends up joining them for a time in their quest to freedom. The trio face many obstacles along the way, and there are moments when it looks like their efforts will be in vain.
The story of Hoover and his journey to freedom is definitely a compelling one. And the fact that he was aided by those men and women in bondage makes for a well-rounded story. But sadly, the film does not do that story justice. The major problem with this film are pacing issues. Clocking in at an hour and forty-three minutes (Quite long for an independent movie), Union Bound feels like a rough cut that wasn’t edited properly before other elements were attended to. Certain scenes in the film tend to drag at times, while others offer nothing to the furtherance of the story, and could have been cut altogether. Because of these unnecessary moments are left in, the film drags along too often, and the film never fully justifies its running time. Had 10-15 minutes been removed, these pacing issues would’ve been resolved for the most part.
The acting is also an issue with the film. Though he has proved himself as a good documentary filmmaker (His documentary Fight Against Time, about the making of his father’s film about Alexander the Great, is a great piece), Sean Stone’s acting talents leave a lot to be desired. Although he is not a terrible actor, he seems to be coasting along as Hoover in the film. Trish Cooks, who plays a southern plantation owner (And owner of the slave Jim), gives the film’s most questionable performance, which is sadly emblematic of most of the acting in this film.
Randy Wayne, as Hoover’s companion Thomas Ryan, does some fine work in his role, presenting a character who is a bit of a scoundrel, but still likable in his own way. But as far as the acting goes, Tank Jones gives Union Bound its finest performance as Jim. Jones does a great job at accurately portraying a slave from the period, and his performance elevates the film from a lot of its issues. His character is the best developed, as we see him deal with devastating blows (Including the death of his mother at the hands of her master), and go from being reluctant to help Hoover and Ryan escape, to one who is willing to risk his life to help others to freedom. It is a role that is well-written, and Tank Jones certainly gives his all in portraying the character.
Another strong element to the film is the music. The score by Craig Brandwynne and Dane Bryant Frazier is wonderful to listen to. The main theme at the beginning of the film is a powerful piece, and that theme is heard throughout the film, and over the closing credits. The composers do great work, and add some good emotion to the film.
However, the great performance by Tank Jones, and the amazing score for the movie, can only do so much with a film that has overall hit-and-miss acting, and a plot that moves at a snails pace. In closing, Union Bound is a decent film that could have been much better, but a plodding pace, and some lackluster acting, keep it from being the powerful film it could have been.
Grade: 5.5/10 (C)