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By Sommer Browning | December 6, 2004

Why I’m compelled to read the story a film is based on, after I watch the film, has something to do with my inconvenient, obsessive respect for the truth. Did Lynch do Dune justice? How many liberties did Scott take with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Luckily, that kind of respect vanishes in the face of the numbing prospect of reading Bridget Jones’s Diary. But not so for “Raccoon,” a stark and thoughtful film based on a story by Richard Chiappone. The story is centered on two best friends and one day in the winter of 1968. Randy (Ben Curtis), just back from basic training and about to leave for a tour in Vietnam, asks his best friend, Bailey (Jonathon Togo), to go on one last hunting trip with him before he leaves. Through flashbacks and Bailey’s narration we learn that while Randy was away Bailey had an affair with Randy’s girlfriend (Caitlin Brown). And during a tense day of hunting, which may be their final day together, Randy confronts Bailey. Randy tests Bailey’s trustworthiness, in an elegant and almost desperate act, by asking him to capture and care for a wild raccoon until Randy comes home from Vietnam. It is a strange request, but the symbolism does its duty.

The strained friendship between Randy and Bailey is delicate and their scenes together are where “Raccoon” is at its cohesive and charged best. The setting is bleak and beautiful. The snow-covered fields seem to illuminate the immediate betrayal and confrontation, while, visually, push away the larger, and more tragic, confrontation in Vietnam. (Do the fields in Chiappone’s story work so well?) The dialog is plain and easy and lets the film tremble between a simple infidelity and some greater, political notion of self-preservation; wildness vs. control (to put it too annoyingly pat). Taylor Ireland’s soundtrack calms and lulls during some of the tensest scenes and connects the film’s sometimes uneven pieces. Parts of the film, like the scenes in which Bailey and Randy’s girlfriend find comfort in each other (read: hook-up), seem to distract from its trajectory. There are scenes that merely move the plot forward, when this film isn’t about plot. But thankfully “Raccoon” leaves some feral ends loose; when I read the short story I hope Chiappone does the same.

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