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
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
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