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Random Hearts

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Sydney Pollack's RANDOM HEARTS, starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, is a study of the contrasting ways in which two people from vastly different backgrounds face identical tragedies and of the romance that ensues between them.

As directed by Pollack and scripted by Kurt Luedtke, based on Warren Adler's novel, the frequently enthralling film is needlessly frustrating. Pollack sets a languid pace, bringing in the picture at an unnecessarily long 2:11, but then doesn't take the time to setup the pivotal scenes in the story. The net result is that incidents that would work quite well with proper motivation instead come completely out of left field, turning possibly plausible actions into ridiculously unbelievable ones.

Harrison Ford plays Dutch Van Den Broeck, a tough and explosive sergeant in the Internal Affairs Division of the DC police department. His wife is off on a business trip to Miami. Or is she? Meanwhile, back at his office, he is trying to nab some crooked cops in a superfluous subplot that seems tacked onto the main story in order to supply some action and cheap thrills.

In contrast to Dutch's bluster, a reserved Kay Chandler (Thomas) is a member of Congress from "a little town in a little state." She's fighting for her political life, running against a self-made millionaire with deep pockets. Remarkably demure for a politician, she can honestly claim a spotless background. When asked by her friend (Bonnie Hunt) about the worst thing that she had ever done, Kay doesn't say what it is, but reflects that if it turns out to be the worst thing that she ever does, "it's going to be a really dull life."

Oh yes, her husband is also off on a sudden business trip to Miami.

Their respective spouses die in a plane crash, and Kay and Dutch later find out that they were sitting together in first-class, seats 3A and 3B, and that they were registered as man and wife. The tentative conclusion is that they were having an affair.

This propels Dutch in an obsessive drive to find out "the answer" as to why it all happened. Ford chews up the scenery as his character stays constantly at the boiling point. Dutch expresses his emotions physically and immediately, holding nothing back.

Kay, on the other hand, wants to forget her husband and his tawdry adultery as quickly as possible. And one thing is for sure and certain, she wants nothing to do with the other woman's husband. When Dutch keeps poking his nose into the mystery, she tells him in no uncertain terms to stop, lest others get wind of it. "If they find out about your wife, it's gossip," she points out. "If they find out about my husband, it's in the newspapers."

More than just worrying about her career, Kay has a teenaged daughter (Kate Mara) to protect, and Kay, as is her nature, represses emotions. As a battle veteran of a life in the public eye, she has hidden her feelings down so deep that the real Kay Chandler hasn't been seen in a long time. In one of the few times that she lets herself come alive, she remarks, perspicaciously, "nobody knows who I am anymore."

As the investigation, that Kay doesn't want but Dutch desperately needs, forces them into ever closer proximity, they switch from antagonists to lovers. The abruptness of this transition is one of the movie's key downfalls. One minute they barely tolerate each other, and the next minute, in a scene that resembles a collegiate wrestling match, they are all over each other in a car like cats in heat. With some buildup, this could have been a powerful scene. Instead, it came across so awkward and unbelievable that it generated snickers from our audience.

(Another equally improbable scene happens earlier in the picture. Dutch, who up until then believed he had a completely faithful wife, comes to realize that his wife's trip might have been because she was having an affair and that she might be in the plane that crashed. Although he's not at all sure of either, he gets a plastic bag and removes every personal item of hers from the house. Few people would do this based only on hunches, especially someone who makes a living investigating other people's lives.)

For all of the movie's problems, the performances by the two leads are always interesting. Thomas, in particular, has a history of bringing a graceful intelligence to her romantic parts from THE ENGLISH PATIENT to THE HORSE WHISPERER. Expressing so much while showing so little, Thomas gives an endearing yet remote performance as Kay. The chemistry between Dutch and Kay, however, never quite reaches a convincing level. Individually their performances are excellent, but somehow the mix never seems quite right.

The supporting cast of the movie is superlative, down to the third string. Pollack was able to attract actors would normally demand much larger parts. The best of these is Pollack himself, who plays Kay's tough minded media consultant, Carl Broman. Carl doesn't care much about Kay's tragedies, he's more interested in how to mold public opinion about them.

As a romance, RANDOM HEARTS comes very close to working. As a character study, it constantly fascinates. But as a movie, it's a mess. It plays like one of those test screens in which studios show works in progress in order to gather audience feedback so they can see how to reedit the film and see what scenes need to be added. RANDOM HEARTS, however, appears to have skipped that step, or, if they had it, they must not have paid proper attention to viewer response cards. It's all such a shame. There's a wonderful movie buried here, but they released it before they finished it properly.

RANDOM HEARTS runs way too long at 2:11. It is rated R for brief violence, sexuality and language and would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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