Films

Romance on automatic pilot

Bereaved spouses seek sexual healing; a British hood pursues revenge

Brian D. Johnson October 18 1999
Films

Romance on automatic pilot

Bereaved spouses seek sexual healing; a British hood pursues revenge

Brian D. Johnson October 18 1999

Romance on automatic pilot

Films

Bereaved spouses seek sexual healing; a British hood pursues revenge

Random Hearts

Directed by Sydney Pollack

Think of it as a perverse date movie for bored couples. Identifying with Harrison Ford or Kristin Scott Thomas, you get to imagine that your spouse dies in a plane crash while flying off to Miami for an adulterous weekend. Torn between grief and anger, you meet your counterpart, the person married to the lover who died in the seat beside your spouse, and you tumble into the sack—which shouldn’t be so bad, because Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas are both better looking than the dead adulterers. But there is a problem: neither of them seems to be in the mood. And as they grope their way through the morose romance of Random Hearts, the tedium is excruciating.

Ford and Scott Thomas are on familiar ground. He plays Dutch, an internal affairs police detective who pursues the truth with a tortured intensity that makes his face look like it is about to implode. Scott Thomas plays a crisply repressed model of female empowerment, a New Hampshire congresswoman named Kay who is running for re-election. This is The Horse Whisperer without the horses: a skittish woman of influence risks losing it all for a cowboy sleuth over-endowed with male intuition.

Although anyone who has seen the ads for Random Hearts knows the premise, it takes almost half an hour for Dutch and Kay to catch up—to learn their mates were together on the plane that has crashed into Chesapeake Bay. In building towards that revelation, director Sydney Pollack ( Tootsie) creates surprising tension. But once the protag-

onists meet, and then begin negotiating the awkward transition from grief to sex, the movie takes a fatal nosedive.

Ford and Scott Thomas are both outfitted with threadbare his-and-hers subplots. He chases a crooked black cop through the backstreets, while she fends off the spi n doctors running her campaign. Based on Warren Adler’s 1984 novel, Random Hearts was penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Kurt Luedtke {Out of Africa), but at least five writers have taken a crack at it over the past 15 years. And there is a ring of desperation to the dialogue. “I was wondering if you would come,” says Dutch when Kay shows up at his cabin. “Guy like you, girl like me, what possible reason could there be not to?” she says. This is romance by default, a tale of two hearts at the mercy of a random script.

The Limey

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

From the confessional intimacy of sex, lies and videotape to the criminal antics of Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh is arguably America’s most innovative and versatile director. The Limey is a minor

film, a simple revenge drama, but it is ingeniously crafted. In an inspired casting coup, Soderbergh has placed two Sixties icons, Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda, in roles that play on their own status as actors forever defined by the era that moulded them. Wilson (Stamp) is a vicious ex-con who, after nine years in a British jail, visits Los Angeles to avenge the mysterious death of his daughter. His quarry is her last boyfriend, a slea2y record producer named Valentine (Fonda).

Wlson is from another world. Speaking the clipped street slang of an oldstyle English hoodlum, he bulls his way through Los Angeles in a violent rage, while The Who wails on the sound track. Valentine, meanwhile, is embalmed in memories of the Sixties, which he describes to his young girlfriend as a dream of “some place far away, half remembered when you wake up—it was just ’66 and early ’67. That’s all it was.” And to the sound of Steppen wolf, he tells a story about hitting a deer while riding his motorbike —a glancing reference to Easy Rider.

For flashbacks to Wilson’s past, meanwhile, Soderbergh uses black-and-white clips from Ken Loach’s 1967 film Poor Cow, in which Stamp plays a young gangster named Wilson. But in a movie that is about Sixties flashbacks, the director never sinks into pure nostalgia. He cuts and shuffles time frames with such deft sleight-of-hand that everything seems fresh. Constructing The Limey almost entirely from cultural baggage, Soderbergh has somehow created a movie of starding originality.

Brian D. Johnson