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Message in a Bottle

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Message in a Bottle

Starring: Kevin Kostner, Robin Wright
Director: Luis Mandoki
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Drama, Romance

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

I've never seen a more blistering hatred of a PROVEN movie star, Academy award winning motion picture director/producer and fine actor than I have of Kevin Costner. Before 'Message in a Bottle' was released, some showed their unprofessional bias by saying things like: "This film has Kevin Costner in it, and therefore it will be bad". Many have attacked Costner unfairly and have been dedicated to ruining his career since he went against the establishment with director Oliver Stone in making 1991's 'JFK'. That was probably Costner's last truly great film and while 'The Bodyguard' and 'Tin Cup' were successful hits for Costner, they were forgettable movies and can't compare to his 'Bull Durham', 'Field of Dreams' and 'Dances With Wolves' days.

'Message in a Bottle' works for one very big reason: it's tasteful. In an adult romantic drama, there is little or no noticeable swearing, no villains and a bedroom love scene that is the most tasteful I've seen in years. You can take anyone to see it from your girlfriend/boyfriend to your mother or grandmother. These factors alone don't make for a good film but in addition to these qualities, 'Message in a Bottle' creates characters that you care about. I felt by the end of the picture, that it was a bit too talky and perhaps that made for a disappointing overall presentation, but it's one of those films that you have to watch until the very end before you realize what an absorbing and lightly flowing film it really is.

Robin Wright Penn plays a Chicago journalist named Theresa Osborne who finds, literally, a message in a bottle on the beach one day and the writing is a two page love letter to a woman named Catherine and through good investigative journalism tactics, Theresa tracks the origins of the note to a man living in North Carolina named Garret Blake (Kevin Costner). Catherine was Garret's wife. Now deceased, we learn that Garret wrote the letter and threw it into the ocean, intending for no one to find it, let alone read it. Theresa and Garret start a romance that leads farther than either one of them anticipated and Theresa's motivation for seeking out Garret and telling him the truth of why she's with him becomes more and more difficult for her after she falls in love with him. Garret refinishes boats and builds them from scratch for a living and lives with his likable but sad sack father Dodge (Paul Newman). Dodge knows he's capable of being the definition of what is called an 'old fart' but he avoids this knowing that he needs his son as much as his son needs him. Both men are widowers and equally feel the loss of a daughter in law and a mother as much as they do the women they were closest to in life.

One of the disappointments in the film is that many notable and talented actors are once again wasted to a certain degree. There is Garret's former brother in law (John Savage), who, along with the rest of his family, blames Garret for his sister's death. Back at the Chicago newspaper, Theresa's colleagues in print are Robbie Coltrane and Illeana Douglas who never really develop into anything more than caricatures. I suppose, in fairness, there really isn't much you can do with these characters without taking away the impact of the main character's destinies.

There is a description of Costner's character made by Newman in the film. In regards to losing his wife, the father says of his son to Penn: "It's like he's been hit by a truck and is only half alive". Costner plays his role very well and his character reminded me a lot of William Hurt's character from 1988's 'The Accidental Tourist' when Hurt's character lost his son in a violent crime.

'Message in a Bottle' is written by Gerald DiPego based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks and is directed by Luis Mandoki. Luis Mandoki takes a very simplified but powerful form of direction in hand to make this film and while the film is somewhat predictable in it's last half hour, it still is a good film using input from a talented cast (I would argue led by Newman) and a story that will require plenty of handkerchiefs that theatres should be required to pass out as you leave the theatre.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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