Ulee’s Gold is a good solid movie across the board. Nothing spectacular, not a movie I’d be urging everyone I know to see, not one of my favorite movies of all time or anywhere close to it, but a clear thumbs up.
The acting is good, the characters are interesting and easy to keep straight, the plot is comprehensible and coherent, there’s enough action to keep it interesting externally and enough going on psychologically to keep it interesting internally, there are no distracting artsy gimmicks, there are no cheesy plot developments or an ending to make me roll my eyes, and it’s in English (which doesn’t make it a better movie, but certainly makes it easier and more enjoyable for me to watch).
Even though the main storyline has to do with a robbery and some bad guys looking for hidden stolen money, it’s really 80% about family and relationships and 20% about guns and crime and cops and all that stuff.
I liked the protagonist, the Peter Fonda character. He’s one of those “still waters run deep” guys who has a quiet purposefulness about him and a palpable sense of responsibility to family, but who turns out to be increasingly interesting, complex, and admirable the more you get to know him.
I also have to note that the film was all set up for a predictable ending, and to their credit they didn’t make the obvious move. Nor did they go for some other clichéd “big finish,” which made it feel even more like a movie for grown-ups. It’s not that the ending is obscure or that it ends without resolving anything like Paranoid Park. Actually the ending resolves things quite satisfactorily; it just doesn’t turn the protagonist into an action hero or otherwise go for some big splash that’s incongruous with the rest of the movie.
I kind of like the protagonist’s line toward the end that he’s come to realize that “There are a lot of kinds of weakness; not all of them are evil.” That nicely sums up an important theme of the movie.
So, again, maybe it’s not an all-time great, but Ulee’s Gold is a good, intelligent, entertaining movie.