Nick is a mailman in rural East Tennessee. He’s good at his job; he likes fishing; he’s been alone for some time. Yet he’s shy — perhaps a little stuck in life — and struggles to make a connection with other people.
But then he finds himself drawn into a friendship with a co-worker named Robin, and the two become closer over shared meals and cups of coffee. She is warm and friendly and pulls Nick out of his shell.
But Robin’s life is more complicated — and potentially tumultuous — than it initially seems. She’s seemingly involved in a toxic relationship, and Nick must reconsider his involvement with the one person he’s connected with for a long time.
Beautifully crafted and compassionate, writer-director Kevin Keck’s compelling drama goes deep into one’s character journey out of personal isolation, as one man rediscovers the value and beauty of connection.
With painstaking attention to detail and an eye for nature’s tranquil beauty, the writing and visuals have a patience and quiet gracefulness, and the film itself takes its time to build an unusually deep portrait of its main character. The pacing and editing take their cue from the main character’s own personality, by taking great care with the small details and rhythms that make up Nick’s world and life, capturing his work and the solitude of his town.
The beauty of rural Tennessee is captured in all its serenity, but it also reflects something innate about Nick: he’s just as still and reflective, but sometimes that solitude becomes an obstacle in connecting to people and living a larger life.
Nick is deftly and precisely portrayed by actor Ree Johnson as a quiet, almost withdrawn man, but Johnson endows him with a powerful sense of inner life, with sensitive powers of observation and a kindness underneath the self-contained demeanor. The willingness of the film to meet its protagonist where he’s at makes for an unusually compelling investment by the audience into Nick’s journey, which comes to a fork in the road when he’s confronted with the truth about Robin’s life. He feels he should edge away and perhaps mind his business, but it also is a choice between the safety of his solitude and the risk of a bigger, more satisfying life.
Like its title, “American Letters” is a very American story that captures life in a small, sheltered part of the country — a place that has shaped people themselves to be self-contained and self-reliant as the world around them. But humans are social creatures who also crave community, fellowship and connection, and this tension is explored with great resonance through this quiet, modest yet lovely character portrait. We come away feeling as if Nick could be anyone we know, whether it’s the barista at our favorite coffee place or the cashier at our grocery store. No matter how quietly they operate at the margin of our lives, these people all have rich, deep stories to live and tell — and how much richer and deeper our own lives would be to hear them.