It's comforting to know that a movie featuring hundreds of bees could create an Oscar "buzz"; it's even nicer, however, when that buzz is as deserved as it is in the case of Peter Fonda's subtly drawn, perfectly understated performance here as Ulysses "Ulee" Jackson, a solitary beekeeper who finds himself dragged back into the lives of the family he has tried to ignore.
It's tupelo harvesting time, traditionally the toughest time of the year for a beekeeper. So the last thing the hard-pressed Ulee needs is a phone call from his incarcerated son asking him to help out his drugged up and wasted former daughter-in-law Helen (Dunford). Against his better judgment, he fetches her home, inadvertently embroiling himself with his son's former partners in crime in a search for missing robbery money. As Ulee's tightly sealed world spins out of control, he must do all he can to save both his family and himself.
Like his previous feature Ruby In Paradise, writer-director Nunez focuses firmly on character and atmosphere rather than plot, which can leave his script uncomfortably clunky at times. Nevertheless, his strengths in other departments mostly make up for this, helped in no small part by Fonda's already Golden Globe-winning performance. He perfectly captures the solitary nature of Ulee, drip-feeding us his vulnerability as outside elements - both wanted and unwanted - slowly move in on his life. It is quite simply the best work Fonda has ever done on screen and to say it evokes his father Henry is high praise indeed.
Nunez's film takes its pacing from the work of Ulee, gently moving along, captured with a fine attention to detail. Much like its central character, it grows in stature and becomes increasingly involving, staying with you long after the movie has finished.