Ned Beatty and Liev Screiber in Spring Forward (movie, 1999)

It’s always nice to rent an obscure or “small” movie and have it turn out to be time well spent. This was the case with Spring Forward, a 1999 film by Tom Gilroy starring Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber as a pair of guys working for the parks department in a small Connecticut town.

Beatty’s character, Murphy, is a patient department veteran nearing retirement. Schreiber’s Paul, on the other hand, is just out of prison for armed robbery, and he is desperately struggling to get control of his life and his temperament. Paul has been doing some reading about men’s spirituality. Murphy has privately been dealing with deep heartache.

The story consists primarily of conversations between these two during their working hours. I was certain it must have been adapted from a play, but I was wrong — although the majority of writer/director Gilroy’s has been for the stage.

Spring Forward was shot, in sequence, over the course of a year, so the Connecticut seasons change from scene to scene. As they do, the relationship between the two men subtly deepens and strengthens. Working in the parks, driving from one location to another, these guys have plenty of time to listen to each other. They consider their own lives and each other’s. They refine and clarify positions.

Both actors give wonderfully natural and nuanced performances. Gilroy nicely captures the flashes of everything from amusement to panic that cross their faces, and his relaxed pacing allows the characters — and us — the perfect amount of time to consider what’s being said and let it sink in, even as the workday, the year, and a career sweep steadily around toward conclusion.

In a world that seems to grow more frantic and fragmented every day, Spring Forward is a gentle reminder about which things really matter, given the transitory nature of all things. It’s an understated piece of solid craftsmanship that leaves a lasting impression, and the empathy it accents has become even more scarce in the decade since its release.

I gave Spring Forward 4 out of 5 stars at Netflix, where it is available via either DVD rental or Netflix streaming.

You can also see it via video on demand or buy the widescreen DVD.