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Political Mercury

A rural Iowa heart beats in the Minnesota woods


The expansive, seemingly borderless roam of Northern Minnesota is the setting for “Heart of Wilderness,” an independent film that explores a claustrophobic blue-collar marriage strained by broken promises, deception and sheer isolation.

Towle Neu (center), director, writer and producer of “Heart Of Wilderness,” stands with lead actors Patrick Mulvey (left) and Sarah Prikryl (right) outside the Stone Arch Cinema last week at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

Towle Neu (center), director, writer and producer of “Heart Of Wilderness,” stands with lead actors
Patrick Mulvey (left) and Sarah Prikryl (right) outside the Stone Arch Cinema last week at the Minneapolis
St. Paul International Film Festival.

Travis Wallien, a grit of a man, finds himself on the wrong, but winning, end of a drug deal at a casino. He takes his wife, Aimee, from their small-town life of easy beers with pool-shooting friends and morning Pop Tarts to the wild lakes and forests of rural Minnesota. There we see the collision of love and hate — the thin line between the two — being crossed and recrossed in piercing scenes on icy lakes.

“When you grow up in a rural environment, or spend time in a rural environment, it’s a little more about one-on-one experiences, and I think that’s what his film really had,” said Craig Laurence Rice, a movie industry veteran and the programmer for the festival who screened more than 250 films.

“Heart of Wilderness” is directed and co-written by Towle Neu, a Carroll native and filmmaker-attorney in Minneapolis. The full-length (84-minute) movie premiered last Thursday to a full house at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, the largest spring arts event in the region, exhibiting more than 200 films from some 70 countries each year and drawing audiences of 40,000.


“We’ve got two sellouts here already,” Rice said of the 300-seat theater in the Stone Arch Cinema just feet from the Mississippi River where “Heart of Wilderness” played. “That’s one reason why I opened up another day for it.”

Shot in Ely, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities, the film, dedicated by Towle Neu to his late father, Arthur A. Neu, a former lieutenant governor of Iowa, landed recently at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Neu and his crew plan to screen the film in Iowa soon.

Patrick Mulvey, 29, of Los Angeles, a native of Joliet, Illinois, played Travis. During filming, Muvley, who has appeared on television shows such as “Mob Doctor,” “NCIS,” “Chicago Fire” and “CSI: New York,” turned down a brief role as a rescue pilot in the blockbuster “American Sniper” so he could continue with the lead in Neu’s film.

“I stayed, and Towle and I spent six days in a cabin by the lake going through the script,” Mulvey said. “He’s probably the most considerate and generous director that I’ve ever met. We changed lines. They fit well in my dialect and coming out of my mouth. He told me quite intimately the parts of Travis that were him, and the parts that were not. We came to an agreement how we saw this character.”

As he sought inspiration for the character, Mulvey said, he looked to Neu.

“I always remembered that this part was essentially, in some aspect, him,” Mulvey said.

Mulvey said the script from Neu and co-writer Kevin Byrnes shows a journey of the workaday American in the Midwest, which he understands.

“That’s why I think a lot of people will like this film,” Mulvey said. “It’s for the everyman. You know, it’s not this movie that’s like ‘300’ or even ‘American Sniper’ where it’s a soldier or a hero. It’s a man who loves his family.”

Bottom line, Mulvey said, “Heart of Wilderness” is quintessentially Midwestern.

“I think the last thing the world needs is another thing that romanticizes the West or the East or anything like that,” Mulvey said. “I think the Midwest is a place that is real America. In my opinion, the Midwest has the best Americans you can find.”

Mulvey just wrapped an episode of “Chicago P.D.” and is moving on to his own project in Joliet.

Sarah Prikryl, who played Aimee, said Neu showed passion for the story.

A native of Austin, Texas, Prikryl, 37, who has lived in Los Angeles for the last decade, spent considerable time with Neu on the backstory of her character — a working-class beauty who affected an air of perennial dissatisfaction, disappointment.

“There’s so much truth in this story, which I feel came out of Kevin and Towle’s heart, that they wanted to tell a story about this small-town everyday man,” Prikryl said.

She said the heart in the film makes it far more engaging than other thrillers.

“There’s something very fulfilling when you get characters that feel like they’re based in truth, and that you get to show humanity,” Prikryl said. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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