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Originally published Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Introspective 'Middle of Nowhere' a mesmerizing tale of growth

"Middle of Nowhere," directed by Ava DuVernay and starring Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick and Lorraine Toussaint, is a quietly masterful drama of heartbreak — and mending. The actors' faces tell the story as much as the action does, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald. The film is playing at the AMC Southcenter.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Middle of Nowhere,' with Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Toussaint, Sharon Lawrence, Edwina Findley. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay. 99 minutes. Rated R for some language. Southcenter 16.

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In Ava DuVernay's quietly masterful drama "Middle of Nowhere," we watch a woman's heart break, then begin to mend. Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a gentle-voiced Los Angeles nurse, faces life alone while her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is serving an eight-year prison sentence.

Once a promising medical student, she gives up school in an attempt to keep her marriage alive. Despite the protests of her mother (Lorraine Toussaint), she gives prison visits precedence over classes. But fate presents other options to her, including a charming bus driver (David Oyelowo) who gives her a glimpse of a sunnier life and a different kind of love.

DuVernay, who previously directed the hip-hop documentary "This Is the Life" and the drama "I Will Follow," lets the movie unfold with a quiet calm. The camera lingers on still-life portraits: a living room, in morning light, of a house in which no one has spent the night; a peaceful sleeper lying in bed, unaware of a goodbye; the tremulous face of a woman whose world has, suddenly, shattered like glass. It's confident storytelling, in which often the actors' faces, rather than dialogue, tell us what we need to know.

Corinealdi, on whose cheekbones alone a movie could happily dangle, gives a performance that's startling in its intimacy. We feel as if we spend much of this movie alone with Ruby, watching her think. (It's a reminder how sadly rare it is, these days, to watch somebody on screen lost in thought, and given time to do so.)

Ruby believes in love, for-better-or-for-worse, but somebody rewrote the end of her fairy tale, and we see disappointment and weariness in her eyes.

"You are me," she whispers ardently to Derek at the beginning of the movie — but what's mesmerizing about "Middle of Nowhere" is that we watch Ruby, gradually, becoming herself.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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