A low-key contemporary East of Eden, Hilary Birmingham’s film slyly unfolds its tale of family secrets while evoking a world that has the feel of a real place inhabited by real people. Like the title hero, Tully Coates (Anson Mount), a hayseed Don Juan who helps out on his dad’s Nebraska farm but doesn’t seem to have much ambition beyond maintaining his car and finding someone to share the back seat with him. His straight-arrow younger brother Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald) disapproves, and when level-headed Ella Smalley (Julianne Nicholson) returns from college, she’s one more thing dividing them. Meanwhile, mysterious bills threaten to bring foreclosure on the property, and the film seems in danger of taking a soap-opera spin.
First-time director Birmingham, however, knows that the virtue of Tully is its faithfulness to the lives it dramatizes. The film’s pace remains unhurried, its performances remain unhistrionic, and its fields and flyblown habitations remain unchanged despite the emotional convulsions and bittersweet resolutions. This is a splendidly crafted miniature of a movie. (102 minutes)