As Far as the Eye Can See opens in a diner in the sleepy small town of Paget, Texas, where Elyn (Annalee Jefferies), the diner’s proprietor, tells a young boy the story of the diner’s prize-winning pecan pie. As she spins the yarn, a slice of the mythic pie sits on display in a glass case on the front counter, blue ribbon posted beside it. The pie slice on exhibit, as it turns out, is 25 years old, an artifact from back when its regionally famous baker was still alive.
The vignette is more than a playful nod to those tales that seem to run rampant in every roadside tourist trap on every stretch of road in rural America. It’s also readymade symbolism for the movie’s central theme. As Far as the Eye Can See, the quietly captivating feature directorial debut of local filmmaker David Franklin, is about the long shadow cast by past glories, as well as the necessity—and the often-scary uncertainty—of moving forward.
Jack Ridge (Jason London), a former piano prodigy whose talents took him to international stages two decades previous, now lives on the outskirts of Paget on his late father’s farm, fending off offers to sell the land and navigating the choppy waters of an impending divorce. He’s volunteered to play at the forthcoming iteration of the piano competition that gave him his first big break, but between his divorce and the holding pattern he’s been in for years, Jack’s ability to play, and to hold things together in general, is in serious question.
As Far as the Eye Can See takes place over the seven days leading up to Jack’s first public performance in seven years. Franklin and screenwriter Paden Fallis allow that countdown to proceed at an unhurried pace underscored by cinematographer Daniel Zollinger’s beautiful North Texas location photography. Far from dragging things down, the leisurely rhythm instills a sense of contemplation that effectively parallels the emotions and issues that Jack faces.
The languid pacing also gives plenty of breathing room to enjoy Franklin’s knack for capturing refreshing naturalness from his actors. Danny Mora, a veteran character actor with some 40 years of roles under his belt, lends wry wisdom and charm to his work as a restaurant owner learning piano under Jack’s tutelage. And young Jasmine Skloss-Harrison gives a role that could’ve been pure cliché—the plucky teen whose unjaded zeal moves Jack to try bettering himself—living, believable vitality. And refreshingly, Franklin and Fallis never sexualize the relationship between her and Jack.
At the center of the movie is London, who’s best known for playing star athlete Pink in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, another character reconciling the heavy pressures of life in the wake of past achievements. Now approaching middle age, with his classically handsome face offset by ragged facial hair and weary eyes, London gives a nuanced, sympathetic, subtly fearless performance.
As Far as the Eye Can See falters briefly when Fallis’s dialogue shoehorns in a little too much exposition. But there are worse cinematic crimes than caring too deeply about fleshing out an incredibly likable ensemble of characters. And when London’s haunted eyes begin to reflect a new sense of purpose and adventure amid Zollinger’s evocative imagery, Franklin’s feature debut captures the beauty of rural America—and the hopes, disappointments and innate resilience of its residents—with bracing, enchanting clarity.
As Far as the Eye Can See screens at the Northwest Film Forum Thursday, Feb. 1, with director David Franklin in attendance. The screening is preceded by Making a Scene with David Franklin, a scene-dissection workshop. Tickets, and more information, can be found here.