What Han Solo Had Is Now Gone
For a smart man, Harrison Ford makes a bewildering number of dumb career choices. Random Hearts is one of the dumbest. This lumbering bore seems to have been made by hollow store-window dummies at the five-and-dime. At his best, in projects that move along at a faster pace than he does, Mr. Ford comes off as a reliable Boy Scout. As a romantic leading man in lugubrious soap operas, he’s as rigid and wooden as a cypress log. Director Sydney Pollack doesn’t give him much help; the whole mess could easily have been directed from a cell phone in a noisy airport between planes. Humorless, miserable and mumbling every line in the picture in the same sullen monotone, the star looks like he’s got an ingrown toenail.
In Random Hearts , he plays an internal-affairs investigator for the Washington, D.C., Police Department. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a brisk politician running for Congress who looks alarmingly like Hillary Rodham Clinton. When his wife and her husband die in a plane crash on their way to an extramarital affair, fate (and a contrived screenplay) bring them together through mutually shared grief. Sporting a geeky haircut and wearing a most unbecoming earring in his left ear, Mr. Ford is pretty weird, while Ms. Scott Thomas seems frozen in archival poses for Time magazine’s “Woman of the Year” cover. While the rest of us suffer through two separate, painful body identifications, two separate funerals and two separate grieving processes, they just stare into the camera like extras from the set of Night of the Living Dead .
She’s a brave widow with an icy demeanor and a public political agenda. He’s a tough cop with a wounded ego, haunted by the fact that his marriage was a lie. She wants to forget the whole thing and get elected. He wants to pursue the ugly facts like a dog on the scent of frying bacon. He tracks down the dead lovers’ activities before the fatal crash like it was a criminal investigation while she tries to cover up the evidence. It’s almost one hour into the tedium before the two stars even meet. It’s 90 minutes before they kiss. It’s an hour and 40 minutes before they climb into the designer sheets. Then, after a night of passion in a rustic cabin on Chesapeake Bay for which there is no logical motivation, the first thing out of her mouth is, “Are you a Democrat?” It’s one of the most unintentionally funny cinematic moments of the year.
How they learn to live with the past and face the future is what this less than fascinating potboiler is all about, and the drippy, lethargic voice of the overrated Diana Krall singing “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” while they stare holes through each other only makes the agony more punishing. When he’s not obsessing (“I wonder where they got their laundry done”), he’s breaking all the Police Department rules chasing a crooked cop, in a subplot dragged in just to keep the action moving, and she’s giving speeches at political fund-raisers. The end credits are almost ready to roll before they ever crack a smile.
The script is deadly, the tempo is slower than a snail race, and it would be impossible to imagine two more lethargic performances. He’s paralyzed, she’s an ice sculpture, and the necessary chemistry to keep this bargain-basement Brief Encounter from sinking is nonexistent. Together, they could be modeling for a museum exhibit called “Inanimate Objects in Motion.” I’ve enjoyed Mr. Ford in other films, but in Random Hearts he reminds me of a talking armoire.
Crucifixion of a Cross-Dresser
Boys Don’t Cry is a raw, harrowing and sexually explicit dramatization of the brutal rape and murder of Teena Brandon, the young and fatally confused cross-dresser from Lincoln, Neb., who bound her breasts in Ace bandages, stuffed a fake penis in her jeans and passed herself off as a boy, fooling all of her female lovers as a fun-loving guy named Brandon Teena. It’s a junk food and trailer-trash spin on the M. Butterfly story, and the more unbelievable it seems, the more profound the impact because the lurid facts are all true. The film, diligently directed by Kimberly Peirce, chronicles the tragic circumstances with an almost amiable candor, but there’s no escaping the sad fact that this was a sick puppy who made the dangerous decision to live life on the edge of a rusty razor blade, then carelessly orchestrated her own grim fate.
Gender-bending to the point of a head-on collision, Teena was a girl with a sexual identity crisis that could only have been solved by moving away. Apparently she carried around a dream of someday becoming a real transsexual, but since there was no money for surgery, she financed her desperation with fake IDs and bad checks that led to a series of clashes with the law. The crowd that took her in, including her girlfriend Lana (Chloë Sevigny), Lana’s sluttish mother (Jeanetta Arnette) and a coven of reckless, violent ex-cons with the combined mentality of a garden slug, turned out to be Teena’s (or Brandon’s) own personal lynch mob, and the gruesome story ended with unbearable horror. The real tragedy is this pathetic creature was cursed from the start by ignorance. In Provincetown or Greenwich Village, Teena would have been just another neighbor down the hall; in Nebraska, she was a homicide waiting to happen.
As depressing and hopeless as it is, Boys Don’t Cry is still riveting stuff, thanks largely to the truthful, unsparing script by Ms. Peirce and Andy Bienen, the masterful editing by Lee Percy and Tracy Granger (daughter of Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger) and a blazing, inspired, dedicated and consuming central performance by Hilary Swank, who plays Teena with a ferocity beyond the call of duty. Filmed on a shoestring budget in Dallas because nerves are still raw in the Nebraska locales where the actual events occurred, Boys Don’t Cry is a powerful, provocative work that elevates the cause of independent filmmaking several notches in the direction of responsible, soul-rending cinematic artistry.
The Return of Terence Stamp
Terence Stamp returns to the screen in fine form in The Limey , a mean, lean revenge thriller that pits him against another 60’s icon, Peter Fonda. The most interesting thing about this otherwise gimmicky, self-consciously overdirected film (by the overrated Steven Soderbergh) is the way it weighs the past against a new and modern criminal underworld while using two defining stars of another decade as a metaphor for lost idealism.
Looking fit and focused at 60, Mr. Stamp plays an aging Cockney thug who, after nine years in a British prison, flies to Los Angeles to avenge the death of his daughter, who may or may not have been killed by her boyfriend, a middle-aged record producer played with slick, reptilian charm and laid-back, lounge-lizard Hollywood style by Mr. Fonda, who is looking pretty well-preserved himself for one of the industry’s favorite hell-raisers. You could write the plot on the edge of a stretched rubber band; the hardened Cockney deals with L.A.’s culture clash by beating, shooting and killing everyone who gets in his way, then stalks the sly and silky rock-and-roll hipster to a hideaway lodge in Big Sur while another gang of hit men hired by Mr. Fonda’s business manager (Barry Newman) plans to double-cross them both. It ends, predictably, in a gangland-style massacre that brings nothing new to the genre.
Meanwhile, Mr. Soderbergh drowns everything in pretentious camera angles, intercuts occurring scenes with clips of what happened in the previous scenes, stages spoken dialogue with no mouths moving, replays events without sound, and spreads simple exchanges over a dozen different locations at once. If you don’t go mad from the arty, abysmal and sophomoric first-year-film-school direction, you’ll find it plummy just watching Mr. Stamp the way he is now (snowy hair, blue eyes hard as the California sky and filling spaces with oceans of determined reserve), and the way he looks in the flashbacks (clips actually taken from one of his earliest films, Poor Cow ). Mr. Fonda matches him every step of the way as the ultimate Armani-suited, famous-for-nothing power player whose brain died somewhere in the middle of a Christopher Cross recording session back in the 1970’s.
The Limey mines nostalgia at every turn while the two stars from the past move through the schematic core of a strange, new urban underworld-like outsiders trapped in the Twilight Zone. The result is a strange film that is impressive and entertaining in spite of itself.