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By Dean Edward | June 14, 2004

Being a recent survivor of that old time favorite, divorce, and secretly harboring a desire (usually after three or four drinks) to reunite with my one true love (despite the fact that she threw me over for a plumber), I could really appreciate this small but expertly mounted drama by newcomer Ruscio. Although obviously shot on a limited budget, Ruscio and his cast overcome technical obstacles with a well-written script and top drawer acting.

Joe (Ringer) pulls into a cheap motel and decides to hit the local bar for a few shots of instant amnesia. He looks like he needs it; he has the look of a man fighting some mighty internal demons. A friendly young woman with a great laugh named Lisa (Philips) tries to draw him out of his shell, and winds up going to his hotel room with him. After a friendly roll in the hay, Joe confesses to her that his wife is dead, and that he killed her. This does not sit well.

Flashback: Sam (Wright), a beautiful woman with a seven-year-old son and some serious self-esteem issues, is calling it quits with the violent and alcoholic Joe. Nine years has been enough; she finds a new job and a new man, her boss Eric (Donovan), a nice guy who seems to hold the key to all the things Joe could never offer her. He wants them to move in, to be a stable family unit, but there is one problem. Sam still loves Joe, and when he comes around begging for forgiveness, she agrees to get back together with him. Perhaps this time will be different.

“Sam & Joe” is a heartbreaking look at the cycle of destructive relationships, and the inevitable road it takes you down. Too many people in this world are caught in such a downward spiral, making this difficult to watch without thinking of people you love who are in similar situations.

The cast, all unknowns to me, grab these characters and underplay, making them more realistic and avoiding the pitfall of letting the audience see the wheels turning. Both leads are excellent; Donovan looks haunted as Joe, and captures that pitiable quality of a man ruled by the bottle and his temper perfectly. Wright as the doomed and mistakenly optimistic Sam is a wonder, so sad and wanting of love that you wish you could warn her away from him.

Writer/director Ruscio has crafted a project that was obviously close to his heart, and the end result is a small gem, a summertime antidote to all the crap that will be hitting theatres soon. If you know anyone like Sam, or like Joe, for that matter, show them this movie; it may not stop them, but it may slow them down a bit.

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