A film with every hallmark of a, well, Hallmark movie.

Does the Hallmark Channel even exist anymore? I think it does, but I couldn’t say with 100% certainty.  I hope this doesn’t spoil any potential advertisements … if anything, it means that they should get out here and advertise and remind us of its ongoing existence!

Or, at the very least, they should acquire a movie like War Flowers. This is a perfect Hallmark movie. It has a few former A-/B+ listers in Tom Berenger and Christina Ricci, it seems to have a halfway decent budget (but nowhere near what it needed), it’s more-or-less a period piece,  and it’s full of melodramatic, uh, drama.

In brief, War Flowers tells the tale of Sarabeth Ellis (Christina Ricci) whose husband has gone off to war, the Civil War to be precise. John (Bren Foster), her husband, is fighting for the Confederacy and has not been heard from by Sarabeth, who is left at home alone to raise their daughter Melody (Gabrielle Popa).  Sarabeth’s world is turned upside down, literally, as she must choose between North and South when a wounded Yankee soldier named Louis (Jason Gedrick) appears. Will she choose the future with a new beau … this fella from the North? Or will she hold out and wait for John, dead or alive, and hold true to those Southern roots? Therein lies the dilemma for Sarabeth.

Call it Cold Mountain Lite!

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I remember watching this wonderfully warm, heartfelt, sad and melodramatic movie on Hallmark way back in 2005 — a movie called The Colt. It is very similar to this, in that, the budget was sorely absent for the war sequences. It felt like a group of Civil War enthusiasts reenacting battle sequences for a low-budget Civil War film. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. Same here. The war sequences in War Flowers feel overly staged.

But that is not too much of a drawback for a made for TV movie. In fact, it’s somewhat expected. But I get the feeling that War Flowers had aspirations for something much greater but just couldn’t get there.

And that seems to be the recent history for Christina Ricci as well. Her career started out strong, huge in fact.  She had some early hits with Mermaids, The Addams Family and Casper. Then she had some wise artistic turns that could help her move beyond child star to the adult world of mainstream Hollywood, with roles in  The Ice Storm, Sleepy Hollow and Black Snake Moan.  Then came a string of forgettables (some mixed in with the others) with movies such as Cursed, Thirteen, Speed Racer, All’s Faire in Love, After.Life, Bucky Larson and too many others to recount here.  Yes, she was in the Oscar winning Monster, but that was Charlize Theron’s success, not Ricci’s.

Overall, Ricci performs admirably in War Flowers, especially if the target were a Hallmark Channel-type audience.  She has some very well acted moments, she (mostly) handles the southern accent with conviction, and she creates tension with her performance. I have a feeling that this is one of those movies where the producers promised much more than the actual production had available to a star like Ricci.  Regardless, her performance is by no means disappointing.

The movie also features Tom Berenger.  He is the American Michael Caine.  I don’t think the dude turns down a role. From Oscar fodder like Platoon, The Big Chill, Born on the Fourth of July, Training Day and Inception to pure entertainment like Major League, The Substitute, Sniper, Shoot to Kill and Shattered, to total duds like any Sniper sequel, Major League 2, Chasers, and shall I go on? Berenger goes through the motions in yet another war movie, which he seems to be his fallback genre.

Jason Gedrick plays Louis, Sarabeth’s would-be love interest. He is probably most well-known for his 80’s success with Iron Eagle. He has a fine role here and gives us another familiar face.

War Flowers provides an adequate bit of made-for-television melodrama, with some good acting, a decent storyline and just enough tension to make it interesting, but I don’t think that was the ultimate goal. After watching War Flowers, it seems producers will aiming for much more, but settle for average.

Grade: C

Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine