Henry Lair (Michael Caine) is a cantankerous archaeologist who knows that death is just around the bend. He is being looked after by Jason (Josh Lucas), his 30-year old grandson, who has plenty of troubles of his own; his wife has gone off to paint in Nepal, leaving their six-year-old son Zach (Jonah Bobo) with him. Now Turner (Christopher Walken), the father who walked out on him 30 years ago, shows up. He is a former drug addict who has been out of touch with everyone. Henry is so thrilled to have his broken family around him that he makes out his will while eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken, then dies of natural causes at the table. Turner is called upon to administer his wishes which include a road trip in an old van to scatter his ashes and the ashes of his beloved dog, who dies shortly after his master. They must visit certain spots that had sentimental meaning for Henry.
Writer and director Jordan Roberts has fashioned a heart-affecting story about this dysfunctional family and their journey together through the desert to the final stop in Albuquerque. Josh Lucas is convincing in the role of Jason, a young man who is going through a painful transition. Given his negative feelings about his long-absent father, he is reluctant to share any details about his life even though he sees that Zach is immediately taken with the grandfather that was supposed to have been dead and is now quite alive in the flesh. In one of the most telling scenes, Jason is convinced that Turner stole an expensive spoon that they intend to use to distribute Henry's ashes. It turns out that it was given to him as a gift by a woman in the store. It seems that his father has many surprises up his sleeve, including a talent for playing the piano.
Jason and Turner verbally spar with each other, and it is obvious that Jason's wounds of abandonment go deep. One evening Turner dances to blaring rock music to push his anger, guilt, and fear away. Zack is impressed with the ritual and takes it into his heart. When they reach Albuquerque, Turner knows that it is time to confess the terrible secret that he has been lugging around for a long time. But he is afraid his son will never be able to forgive him once he hears the truth.
Around the Bend is a family film that will resonate with all those who cherish stories that revolve around emotional literacy. This is one movie men need to see and to let simmer in their consciousness. Like the intense dramas of Sam Shepard, this one by Jordan Roberts will stay with you for days after the closing credits roll on the screen. Only unlike Shepard, this filmmaker knows how to make the most of small and intimate moments of sharing when individuals reach across the barriers that separate them and experience something akin to a sacred in feelings of oneness.