Movie reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Random Hearts (1999)

Directed by Sydney Pollack. Written by Kurt Luedtke and adapted by Darryl Ponicsan, based on the novel (1984) by Warren Adler. Photography, Philippe Rousselot. Editing, William Steinkamp. Production design, Barbara Ling. Music. Dave Grusin. Cast: Harrison Ford (Dutch Van Den Broeck), Kristin Scott Thomas (Kay Chandler), Charles S. Dutton (Alcee), Kate Mara (Jessica Chandler), Bonnie Hunt (Wendy Judd), Dennis Haysbert (Detective George Beaufort), Edie Falco (Janice), Lynne Thigpen (Phyllis Bonaparte), Brooke Smith (Sarah), Richard Jenkins (Truman Trainor), Paul Guilfoyle (Dick Montoya), Susanna Thompson (Peyton Van Den Broeck), Peter Coyote (Cullen Chandler) et al. Produced by Pollack and Marykay Powell. A Columbia release. 131 minutes. R (sex and violence)

Yes, Virginia, there are differences among social classes. More about this later. For now, the sad news that Random Hearts is a disappointment.

It starts with the title which is sappy, terribly old-fashioned, like one of those paperback romances of yore and of now. Everyone who has even the minimum of information about movies knows already the subject.

He is Sergeant "Dutch," of the Internal Affairs division of the Washington, D.C. police. He has a young, pretty wife, Peyton, a fashion consultant at Saks Fifth Avenue. No children. She is Kay Chandler, a Congresswoman for New Hampshire and the wife of lawyer Cullen. They have a 15-year old daughter, Jessica (well played).

The two families don't know each other, but Peyton and Cullen have been having an affair. Peyton tells Dutch that she's flying to Miami for a Saks catalogue photo-shoot. Cullen pretends he's going to New York on business. In fact the two get on a plane to Miami to have some fun in the sun, and out of it too. The plane crashes shortly after take-off. The couple is among the many dead.

It takes time and searches for Dutch to become aware of the infidelity and death of his wife. Kay finds out in simpler ways. Dutch and Kay meet some 45 minutes into the movie. They fall in love.

Before Dutch and Kay meet the film is interesting in events (including airline's after-crash procedures) and in characters. It is elaborate, with impressive big- budget cinematography, and often functional editing: when Dutch makes an urgent phone call, he dials only the first two digits before we cut to the call proper. Good economy of means, especially since phones and answering machines play a major role. By far the most affecting sections come as shell-shocked Dutch pieces together bit by bit the awful truth of his wife's affair. .

But after this go-go-go tempo, the elaborate shifts to laborious, the story slows down while its lining of semi-irrelevancies increases. In the hallowed tradition of using more than one narrative paths (which can be good, but also bad when using is not followed by fusing) the plot is murkily padded by Dutch going after some drug-dealers and their corrupt police associates. Too much cliché cop-stuff.

In the long second part, the best thing is a terrific scene at a Miami place where couples dancing the tango generate infinitely more eroticism than the main story

Why make the main characters a policeman and a Congresswoman running for re-election? Because of the TV and movie "glamor" of gun-action and politics, and of course sex. Forgotten, as in too many gimmicky "love" stories, is the lesson of Brief Encounter (UK, 1945), that paragon of classically simple sentimental tales: two ordinary people in ordinary circumstances can move you immensely. Period.

The process of bringing the protagonists "really" together, travels through corpses, posh hotels and restaurants and is fairly convoluted. It reaches an unconvincing peak after the Dutch and Kay, back from their separate (discrete but not discreet) visits to confirm to themselves, needlessly and masochistically, the reality, the scene and the betrayals of their spouses. They return to D.C. on the same plane. At the Washington parking-lot, in Kay's car, there is (OUCH!!!) sudden, startling, logic-defying wild kissing and groping.

The affair that follows, complete with bucolic settings, soupy dialogue, some revelations, and both parties' obsessive need to know more about their dead spouses, shows only one thing: that the movie doesn't know what to do with itself. Well, what do you expect from a work which started its planning fifteen years ago with a novel, and whose script and "adaptation" have different authors.

Now, Virginia, back to social differences. The main actors are nicely matched physically. They are mature, Ford, 57, Scott Thomas, 39, yet visually give no impression of a June-November couple. But no matter how youthful and vigorous Ford, the likelihood of the pairing is strained. She is the patrician daughter of a millionaire who was (is?) a political force. And a New England Republican.

The policeman, named "Dutch" Van Den Broeck -- perhaps to remind subliminally a few viewers of aristocratic Dutch-American families -- is a commoner who drinks beer from the bottle. Perhaps a Democrat, since, in a good touch, he sports an earring that may denote non-conservatism.

This hybrid movie gets increasingly uninvolving. It seems predicated on a 100% belief in monogamy. What hypocrisy, when showbiz people are notoriously polygamous, megagamous or even gigagamous.

The most affecting sections come in the first part, with shell-shocked Dutch learning bit by bit of his wife's affair. There is also excellent photography, including a terrific scene at a Miami place where couples dancing the tango generate infinitely more eroticism than the main story.

Director Sydney Pollack plays very well Kay's politically savvy spinmeister. Pollack is no mean film-maker. He does what he can here but has an overall clumsy script to contend with.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie reviews by Edwin Jahiel