What a pleasure it is to watch a pair of acting pros like Angelica Huston and Bill Pullman, both in tip-top form, duke it out as embattled siblings in the pithily titled “Trouble.” It’s a film that begins as a raucous rural comedy and deftly evolves into a poignant and reflective, yet still wryly amusing, story of what becomes of a family.
Writer-director Teresa Rebeck, a longtime film and TV writer and much-produced playwright (“Seminar,” “Spike Heels”), enjoyably showcases her distinctive bent for authentic characters, clever dialogue and bold emotion. She spins out an involving tale as Ben (Pullman) decides he’s entitled to the Vermont family farm that sister Maggie (Huston) has occupied ever since he sold his share to her and her now-late husband many years ago.
That Ben, a rash, unmade bed of a guy who’s holed up in a dumpy trailer, has no real legal leg to stand on doesn’t stop him from showing up with a backhoe one morning to noisily stake his claim. Although he has a plan to sell out to real estate developers, Ben has long wanted to build his own house on this woodsy land where he and Maggie grew up.
A rowdy battle ensues involving an unapologetic gunshot, dubious documents, unpaid taxes, legal wrangling, logging rights, a crisscross of small-town scheming and several pairs of dug-in heels, as brother and sister attempt to best one another. Ben is assisted on his impulsive mission by a merry band of buddies including childhood pal Gerry (David Morse), family man Ray (Victor Williams) and the younger, swaggering Curt (Jim Parrack).
But there’s more to these weed-fueled enablers than meets the eye as we learn that Gerry still carries a torch for his old friend Maggie and that Curt has an unexpected alliance to Ben. Rebeck slowly moves things into a more sensitive, wistful gear that serves the picture extremely well, as Ben’s health takes a hit, Gerry makes a romantic play for Maggie, and Maggie yields just a bit to the world around her.
A series of brief but lovely flashbacks to Ben and Maggie’s idyllic days growing up on the farm with their loving dad also have accumulatively powerful effect. The excellent cast, which includes an especially nimble Julia Stiles as Curt’s not-quite-girlfriend and Brian d’Arcy James as the town sheriff, works together like a well-oiled machine. But it’s team captains Huston and Pullman (with a fine assist from Morse) who offer a master class in acting.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 5; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica