This film follows Eric Stoltz in the lead role of Joel as he deals with his injury within a hospital ward where he interacts with other men in a similair situation most frequently former biker Bloss (William Forsythe) and braggart Raymond (Wesley Snipes). The film really is almost as much about those two as it is Joel, though we most often see those two in how they way Joel perceives them. Stoltz, whose career unfortunately never really fully recovered from being replaced in Back to the Future, though once again proves himself to be a particularly natural performer. This allows for a kind of a different take on the injured man story line that is fitting to the film's style which again seems to be striving to avoid the usual melodrama associated with these types of stories. Although that is not to say there isn't drama, but the film very much takes it in a calm and controlled fashion. This is partially due to Stoltz's performance which begins with the character in a mental state that is a tad unexpected, although this plays partially into the structure of the film where we open post-injury before we had time to even meet the man before his time in the film.
Stoltz portrays initially a strange euphoria in the character, perhaps relating to initial survival of his injury which one could presume was near death. Stoltz is effective in his portrayal of this though as he shows it to be almost a detached state in some ways. As he speaks not as though he is out of it, but as though his focus is upon his survival rather than his injury. Stoltz does not overplay this making it feel a very natural state of being for the moment, a being of a certain contentment in his existence. This naturally though is a relatively short lived state of a mind, as Stoltz rather naturally portrays the progression to a more earthly understanding of what's real going on around him. Again though Stoltz's portrayal of this switch is very nuanced as he does abruptly losing one the switches, but rather he gradually reveals the other emotions creeping into his work. A notable aspect of this though is how Stoltz works this in whether he is the focus or not. He never wastes his time when a scene is more clearly focused upon Bloss or Raymond rather than Joel. His reactions are always remarkable as Stoltz relates them to Joel's own state of mind.
The main focus of Joel's story comes in his relationship with his married girlfriend Anna (Helen Hunt apparently prepping very early on for The Sessions). Again though unlike say The Men with Marlon Brando, Stoltz and the film takes this very easy though effectively. After that early period of enthusiasm, where it seems as though their is no hesitation in their relationship despite the injury, the problems soon arise. Stoltz though is terrific in revealing these seeds of potential bitterness so internally in his work, in a glance, or a moment. He is infrequently direct in any moment yet Stoltz's work never feels vague in this regard either. He instead portrays exactly the pain Joel's going through but in a distinctly understated fashion. Again his reactions within the other men's stories are key, particularly in the moments where Raymond struggles with his wife, and Stoltz reflects Joel taking the it in which only seems to create his own certain distress. As much as this pain gradually moves in, it also gradually is changed as well in Stoltz's performance. The acceptance of his condition and his difficulty of that is all equally a quiet one. Even in the major scene where he suggests Anna move on from their relationship, Stoltz downplays it yet still manages to be rather affecting in portraying a subtle anguish in this choice. The film fittingly leaves on a modest note of Joel leaving the hospital to start his life on the outside, not necessarily a perfect man, but a man comfortable with his existence. This is a good performance by Eric Stoltz as he is essential in realizing this distinct approach the film takes to the material, as even in its modesty he creates a poignant portrait of this man's recovery.