You've heard it a thousand times: "The movie is never as good as the book." This old saying is never more true than when it speaks of a novel adapted into a TV movie. So in a way, The Pilot's Wife never had a chance. Based on the novel by Anita Shreve, The Pilot's Wife just doesn't pack the emotional wallop necessary for such a powerful story; an emotion that can only glimpsed through the character's introspection, which can only be found in the written word and rarely ever translates well on screen.
The film opens in the early morning with a knock on the door. Seeing the man standing on her porch, Kathryn Lyons (Christine Lahti) immediately knows her husband has been killed; she just needs to know when and where. The man from the airlines, Robert Hart (Campbell Scott), tells her it was a plane crash over the coast of Ireland.
Before Kathyrn can even begin to accept what has happened, rumors begin to fly that John Lyons (John Heard) was responsible for the crash. Naturally, Kathryn and her daughter, Mattie (Alison Pill), won't believe that the loving man who shared their lives could ever do such a thing. But once the Safety Board and FBI come on board the investigation, even Kathryn begins to have doubts. So she leaves her daughter behind and starts an investigation of her own, one that leads her to Ireland and the truth about her husband and the lies he told during their marriage.
The "woman seeks the truth about her dead husband" story has been done before, and has been done better. The entire adaptation is flat with no real depth or emotion. I never once found myself believing the mental anguish I witnessed on screen. The obvious scapegoat could be the poor dialog. In one scene that begs for passion, Kathryn whispers to herself, and apparently her dead husband, "I trusted you not to die," with such lack of emotion I had to resist a smile.
But the poor dialog can't carry the burden of this film's weaknesses. The biggest reason behind the films lack of feeling is its lack of detail. Put simply, the story is too rushed. It's as if the 1.5 hour time limit put undue constraints on the production, and the powers that be decided that getting in every plot point was more important that character development or realism.
All this criticism is really unfortunate because I found myself thinking over and over again that the film would most likely make a great book. A novel that gets into the heart of a woman who has not only lost her husband, but who also learns that her life has been a lie, could be a very powerful one. It just happens that it doesn't make a good TV movie.
Lion's Gate presents The Pilot's Wife in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. It's a relatively clean transfer with only minor noise artifacts, but the transfer is very soft. It truly lacked crisp, solid detail. It's a dark, somber film, but I continually felt it was too dark, as if there was a constant haze over the entire presentation. Although the skin tones seemed correct, most colors are muted and there is little depth in the shadows.
Offered in 2.0 Dolby Surround, The Pilot's Wife is an acceptable track at best. There is almost no low end here, and the dialog is too soft. A few times the voices appear as if they aren't coming from the characters on screen but somewhere behind them. This is most likely caused by poor dubbing during the outside scenes, but it seems as if the DVD transfer only escalates the problem.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Almost an Easter egg (it's hidden behind the Lion's Gate logo), this disc features a full frame trailer of The Pilot's Wife and The Dead Zone, a trailer that sounds even worse than it looks.
If you're interested in the story, read the book.