(On this long weekend to mark Veterans Day, we give a shout out to all who have served. This blog donates 100% of its profits to charities, including Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.)
A blurb in a copy of Fly Fisherman earlier this year caught my eye. A narrative feature film about fly fishing! Amazing! I was excited and intrigued. Mending the Line was released in theaters this past June after debuting at a couple film festivals in 2022. Filming took place in Montana in 2021.
The two best-known actors in it are the legendary Brian Cox (Super Troopers and Churchill among others), and the fantastic Native American actor Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans and The New World among others), whom the New York Times recently called one of the greatest actors of the 21st century.
I’ve read reviews of the film, and I would encourage you to do the same and check out a couple if you’d like to hear a professional critics viewpoint. I’ll let you find them yourselves but will mention that the film does have a good score of 6.5 on IMDB. Otherwise, I’ve got a better idea – let’s watch the trailer!
For background, read a Q&A with the director and the writer over at Fly Lords here. Now it’s choose your own adventure time: either go watch the movie (it’s available to rent on multiple streaming platforms) or continue to read my brief thoughts which may spoil the fun for you. Yes, there’s really a movie out there that shows fly fishing that isn’t based on a Norman Maclean novella!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you
Go watch the movie!
My conclusion is that Mending the Line is not a movie about fly fishing, as it’s a movie about trauma. The memorable themes for me were not fishing or therapeutic outdoor activities. They were trauma, alcohol, and family strife. The latter two aren’t front and center the whole film, but they stuck with me afterwards. Your experience will vary.
I liked the fly fishing scenes and the time at the fly shop. We need more fly fishing movies that can attempt to dethrone A River Runs Through It. It’s great that more stories are being written about military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and associated PTSD. War is hell, and we should all thank our fellow Americans and soldiers for their military service, whether or not they experienced combat.
But my biggest gripe with Mending the Line isn’t the acting or the writing or the cinematography, all of which I enjoyed. It’s the initial treatment of the traumatized veteran Colter, admirably played by Sinqua Walls, by his mentor. Rather than being accepted with open arms and immediately given an opportunity to grab a rod, he’s mistreated and castigated by the fly fishing instructor Ike Fletcher, played by a gruff Brian Cox.
I would like to hear what representatives from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing think of the film, particularly about how intake works for veterans within their programs and how that conflicts with the experience of Colter. It’s abhorrent to think that a veteran in need, nevertheless one struggling with substance abuse, wouldn’t be given the accepting love they need and treated with an attitude of inclusion. Instead, Ike Fletcher resists helping him at first.
I know that care for our veterans could be improved, but it’s still difficult to watch a narrative of a veteran in need having a hard time getting help. According to Fly Lords, the genesis of the film’s creation is a little strange. The screenwriter Stephen Camelio mentions that he didn’t know about veterans service organizations that employ fly fishing as a component in a program of healing and rehabilitation before writing the film.
I really wanted to like Mending the Line but I had a hard time feeling good about it. I appreciate more stories about PTSD and efforts to destigmatize it. But it was upsetting to watch a depressed veteran be offered therapy, in this case fly fishing, and then get mistreated when he tries to accept the offer.
Having Colter work for free in the fly shop as a borderline form of hazing seems unrealistic. While Ike Fletcher encourages Colter to stop drinking, he doesn’t do it in a sensitive or helpful way. I’d like to think that the film could have been greatly improved if experts on the power of fly fishing for military veterans had been consulted more before filmmaking began. With some script changes, this film could be great. As it is, it’s just good.
I would still say go give it a watch, but it’s a heavy film, and there only a few scenes with fly fishing that occupy short minutes. What do you think? I should reiterate that these opinions are my own, and that I’m still very much grateful that military veterans, PTSD, and fly fishing are all getting more attention on the big screen.