What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!
If you were awake at midnight last night and if you were watching TCM, you would have seen a 1986 film called Promise.
Promise stars James Garner as Bob Beuhler, who is one of those deceptively confident men who seems to have his entire life together. He’s made a nice little life for himself, buying and selling houses and he lives in a small town where everyone appears to know and respect him. If Promise were made today, Bob is the type of person who could probably have his own A&E reality show.
But then Bob’s mother dies and we learn of a promise that Bob made forty years ago. It turns out that Bob has a younger brother, named D.J. (James Woods). D.J. suffers from schizophrenia and he’s spent all of his life living with his mother. It quickly becomes apparent that the main driving force behind Bob’s success has been the need to prove that he’s nothing like D.J. When he doesn’t take his medication, D.J. is unpredictable and suffers from violent mood swings. Bob loves his brother but he’s also scared of him.
However, Bob made a promise and he’s going to try to honor it.
It turns out to be even more difficult than he expected. Sometimes, D.J. is calm and sweetly shy. Other times, he becomes violent. The rest of the town starts to gossip about Bob’s “crazy” brother. After one fight, Bob discovers that D.J. has become catatonic. When Bob calls an ambulance, everyone in the neighborhood lines up on Bob’s lawn to watch as D.J. is taken away.
Even though D.J. is eventually released from the hospital and returns home, Bob still is unsure of whether or not he can properly care for his brother. When they go on a trip to a cabin that they often visited as children, Bob is surprised to see how “normal” D.J. is acting. But how long will it last?
When I looked up Promise on the imdb, I was not surprised to discover that it was originally made for television. The fact that nobody in the film ever curses was a dead giveaway and the script occasionally threatens to turn into a PSA. But, with all that in mind, Promise is still a wonderfully effective and rather heartbreaking little movie. James Woods has the more showy role and does a great job with it’s the far more low-key James Garner who keeps the film grounded. Watching a film like Promise, you see that Garner was really a great actor.
Promise is a sad film but it’s definitely one worth watching.
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