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A difference of opinion
A great piece of filmic art, or a great piece of ... uh, hmmmn. Read on

"Random Hearts"

0 stars

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

Sometimes, all the right elements are there: A bankable star, a respected director and a terrific concept. Then, they actually make the movie, and by the time they are finished, people are running for cover.

"Random Hearts" begins with a plane crash, which is apropos. The wife of police officer Dutch Van den Brock (Harrison Ford) and the husband of congresswoman Kay Spencer-Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas) die aboard the crash. It turns out that neither one was supposed to be on that plane. Turns out that the two were having an affair.

Turns out that this pisses off the cop something royal, so he goes digging into his wife's extramarital activities, eventually leading him to Spencer-Chandler. She is revolted by the revelation, but amazingly the two wind up attracted to each other even as they dig into the truth.

As romance movies go, this one is pointless.

For there to be a romance that audiences can respond to, they have to like the characters involved. Van den Brock is a self-involved, self-pitying cop with obsessive relentlessness tracking down not only crooked cops in the Internal Affairs division, but his wife's own corruption. Spencer-Chandler is arrogant and high-handed, but comes off as somewhat cold and distant.

The main problem here is the writing. The characters behave in ways that no human will behave in without being shipped off to the funny farm. Sure, grief does funny things to people, but generally someone will take them in hand and say "you need to get therapy." The dialogue is also pretty cheesy; these characters talk like they know there is an audience, saying things that people just don't say to each other except in commercials.

Generally, I'll go out of my way to see Harrison Ford in a movie, but his wooden performance here would make a cigar store Indian jealous. I know the man's into carpentry, but is he trying to channel a house or what?

Near the end of the movie, Ford's character asks Thomas' character if he can ask her out to the movies sometime; I sure hope they don't see this one. I don't wish THIS movie on anybody.

Theater or Video?
If you must rent this one, make sure you're in a place you can walk out of. If they show it as an in-flight movie, either switch airlines or bring a parachute.

4 stars

Reviewed by John Orr

Despite its title and the way it was marketed, "Random Hearts" isn't really a romance, so try to get that idea out of your head before you see it. If you go expecting hearts and flowers, you will be disappointed at least, and probably disoriented.

You may leave the theater (or your living room with the VCR or DVD player) dizzy and mumbling to yourself, and miss a chance to enjoy an interesting movie.

It is a mystery and a character study. Romance is a factor in the film, but it's only part of the story, and not what is foremost on the minds of director Sydney Pollack and writers Warren Adler and Darryl Ponicsan.

Look at it that way, accept it for what it is, and you will enjoy a finely crafted, cohesive bit of filmmaking from one of the best directors around, and a brave performance by an excellent lead actor -- Harrison Ford.

Ford stars as Dutch Van Den Broeck, a detective sergeant in the Internal Affairs Division in the Washington, D.C., police department. As a cop, he is all straight arrow, and he's tough, brave and smart.

He loves his wife, Peyton (played by Susanna Thompson), and she has the hots for him, as we learn early on, despite her subtly suspicious behavior, which he doesn't happen to notice. It wouldn't occur to him that his wife was anything but a straight arrow, too.

Kristin Scott Thomas is Kay Spencer-Chandler, a congresswoman, married to Cullen Bryant (Peter Coyote). We see nothing wrong with their marriage, either.

But, Peyton and Cullen are sitting next to each other on an airplane neither is supposed to be riding when it crashes and both are killed. (One of the most fascinating shots in the film is underwater, their two bodies still strapped in and not looking too beat up, her hair floating around her lifeless face.)

The mystery begins with the fact that neither Dutch nor Kay know their spouses are dead, at first. So, for a while, we watch Dutch and Kay live their separate and useful lives, while we know what horrors await them in the black body bags.

When Dutch finds out his wife may have died on that plane, and in what circumstances, his detective instincts and training quickly lead him to believe, in some place inside him, that she had been having an affair. He throws out saved food from the refrigerator, Tupperware containers and all (she might have liked whatever was in those bowls, but he didn't) and strips off the sheets and frou-frou from their bed.

But, internal knowledge aside, he is left with a hard question that needs a hard answer -- an answer that will hold up in the court of his own hard intellect.

And so he does what is in his nature to do: He pursues the truth of what his wife had been up to. He needs to find the smoking gun, the corpus delicti that proves the woman he loved had been unfaithful to him.

Along the way he meets up with Kay, and it's no surprise they are attracted to each other. The same chemistry that was part of their own marriages is between the two of them, of course, and both are hurt and vulnerable -- and they share the secret knowledge of what their deceased spouses had been up.

But, while they give each other comfort, she is a pragmatist -- a politician who wants to forget the past and go on with life -- and he is a bulldog -- he simply cannot let go of that bone; he has to find that clear evidence about what his wife was doing.

No circumstantial evidence for this guy. He needs the hard truth. That becomes a problem for his budding romance with Kay.

In the meantime, he continues being a detective, biting and snarling at the case of a crooked cop he thinks is guilty of murder. Over the top, he even drives away his friend and partner Alcee (played well by Charles S. Dutton).

Kay, meanwhile, is in a difficult re-election race, against a well-funded and unscrupulous opponent.

(The funniest moment in the film, to me, occurs after Kay and Dutch have made love and decided they might have a future together. In bed, naked and in spoons position, she says, very earnestly, as if asking if he had an STD, "I have to know something. Are you a Democrat?" She turns to face him. "What if I am?" he asks. "We'd talk," she says. "I'd give you books to read." Hahahaha haha hahaha haahaha hahaha hahahaha hahahahaha!!)

The cop case subplot conveniently parallels the main story and comes to fruition at nearly the same time ... leaving Ford in the hospital with a second butthole (courtesy of the crooked cop's gun).

I call it a brave performance by Ford because his character is not easily likeable for everyone. But it is a believable and interesting realization of a character, and one worthy of note.

I admire how well Pollack crafted "Random Hearts." It is a film of subtle writing, direction and performance.

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See cast, credit and other details about "Random Hearts" at Internet Movie Data Base.