Fonda comes through with a sturdy performance as the stoic patriarch whose certainties are shaken by events. In a way, you can read his portrayal as a salute to his father Henry's public rectitude and strength and also perhaps as a criticism of Henry's private distance toward his children. But Peter Fonda hasn't honed his craft nonstop for decades the way his father had at Peter's age (he's now 58), and he can't bring anything more to his part than what's in the script. Nunez may love his actors, but he dampens their electricity. When Fonda and the perky Richardson connect emotionally over tea, Nunez simply cuts between lingering close-ups. After confessing that she's twice-divorced, she says she knows he disapproves; we can't assess her reading of him because Nunez fails to put his reaction in the movie frame.
Ulee's Gold is the kind of small film that makes you feel dismissive, not protective. It's too proud of its modesty. The script restricts the characters' possibilities -- they mosey down predictable paths. Visually, it has a bad case of director's cramp. Nunez's company co-produced Ulee's Gold with Clinica Estetico, the production company of that instinctive movie-man Jonathan Demme. But it has the simultaneously high-minded and preformatted feel of a film destined for television. It's as if Nunez had shot it in pan-and-scan.