June 20, 2008 -- At a time when most films lack subtlety, it is rare to find one as delicate, wistful and tender as “Neverwas.” Most films have a story which knocks you over the head or punches you in the stomach. “Neverwas” is like gossamer spider silk wafting along on a summer breeze. It is an enchanting, delicate tale without a true villain and the gentlest of heroes.
The hero is Zach Riley (played by Aaron Eckhart of “Possession”) a psychiatrist who gives up a lucrative faculty position at a major university to work in the same run down mental hospital that once housed his suicidal father (played by Nick Nolte). Zach has good intentions. He wants patients to get the kind of quality care his father never got. The memory of his father haunts the hospital like a ghost and Zach finds himself filled with anxiety and unable to sleep. A mysterious patient, Gabriel Finch (Ian McKellen of the “Lord of the Rings” films) seems to know Zach's inner secrets.
Zach finds that his own inner torment will only go away by unlocking Gabriel Finch's secrets and by coming to terms with the memory of his father, the author of a beloved children's book, Neverwas. The quest for both of these goals leads Zach on a very strange journey through consciousness, time and space. Along the way, he meets an old friend, Maggie Blake (Brittany Murphy of “8 Mile”). He also must deal with the jaded hospital administrator, Dr. Peter Reed (William Hurt of “Vantage Point”).
The actors in this film all give very good performances. The story is also solid, if somewhat whimsical. It keeps the viewer guessing about what is really going on until the end. The conclusion is satisfying. There is an attempt to work in a romance between Zach and Maggie, but it never really works. It is more of a plot convenience more than anything else. On another level, the story can also be viewed as an analogy for the creative process itself, which can be very painful for some artists. It describes both the pain and the joy of creating an imaginary world. The delicate line between the imaginary and the real is what this film is all about. It treads that tightrope deftly from beginning to end. It also manages the difficult feat of reconciling the living with the dead at the same time. There are some impressive sets and location shots. The cinematography is effective in communicating both a sense of wonder and depression. This film rates a B.
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