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Random Hearts

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 8 October 1999


Directed by Sydney Pollack.

Starring Harrison Ford
Kristin Scott Thomas
, Charles S. Dutton
Bonnie Hunt
, Dennis Haysbert
Richard Jenkins
, Paul Guilfoyle
Susanna Thompson
, Dylan Baker
Susan Floyd, Lynne Thigpen
Kate Mara
, Ariana Thomas
Bill Cobbs
, and Sydney Pollack.

Screenplay by Kurt Luedtke 
adaptation by
Darryl Ponicsan
based on the novel by Warren Adler.

Apparently pitching for The Bridges of Madison County audience, regrettably the chemistry between Dutch Van Den Broeck, a D.C. cop with a bad hair day, and stuffy, Republican New Hampshire Congresswomen Kay Chandler comes to fruition as the two of them stumble about and grope each other in the front seat of her car at Ronald Reagan National Airport (yes, another Republican) midway through this autumn sleeper. Except this sleeper is the other, i.e. narcoleptic, kind. Overlong by a mile, this latest romantic non-thriller from director-actor Sydney Pollack is Hollywood’s gift to cure insomnia. If you want to prevent cinematic hibernation, be sure to pre-screen at least a double latte at the Starbucks down the street. A couple of toothpicks to prop your eyelids open might be a good idea, too. Perhaps the theaters could hand them out to the audience, packed in a paper wrapper embossed with “I survived Random Hearts.”

Pollack seems to have taken a card from the deck of the late Stanley Kubrick. Unfortunately it’s the joker. Eyes Wide Open tread water forever and Pollack had ample opportunity to observe the master’s final effort and transferred those impressions in this geriatric paean for the Geritol crowd. His credits are impressive (Out of Africa, Tootsie, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), and his films have garnered an incredible 46 Academy-Award nominations, but his four years off since directing the Sabrina remake (also with Harrison Ford) seems to have taken its toll, and his megaphone has gone limp with this long incubating treatment of Warren Adler’s 1984 novel.

Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas put on stoic faces as tragedy-crossed lovers, tossed together for a brief encounter when their adulterous spouses (Susanna Thompson and Peter Coyote) perish while flying to Miami for a weekend tryst. Ominous thunder claps foretell the obvious, as Dutch, a sergeant with Internal Affairs, and Kay, a patrician public servant and mother continue on, unaware, with their separate lives (sleepless in D.C.), he investigating two crooked policemen, she hemming and hawing her political future under the microscope of spin doctor Carl Broman (Pollack, at least putting in a good performance, although he’s no Robert Wag the Dog DeNiro). There’s no real tension (well a touch of aging sexual angst perhaps), other than the bad cop subplot that doesn’t work at all other than to dovetail at one key moment late in the film. The Dorset-born Thomas puts on a believable New England accent as well as generally depressing bleary-eyed makeup. And Ford has another horrendous finger-in-the-socket coif that rivals his disastrous cut in The Devil’s Own. Ouch!

The film moves along at a prehistoric pace, especially the first, distant meeting of the principals, a painstakingly slow sequence that has enough pregnant pauses of deadly silence to give birth to an army of angry film critics. It suffers from a terminal case of denial as Dutch and Kay unravel the “why” behind their spousal deception. The leads trade off their deep funks on each other; Dutch wins by being able to remember the cut and size of his wife’s engagement ring. And any observant viewer will notice an occasional continuity error, including a 25-cent pay phone call (it’s been a dime more than that for a few years here in the nation’s capital), although the city and surrounding areas, including the local Saks, are captured to good advantage.

Dave Grusin’s score is pedestrian, offering a redundant blues motif with tinges of brass and piano (shades of Red Shoe Diaries, I wrote in my notes) as one predictable, stress-filled scene follows another. Latin riffs accompany the hot breeze in Miami where the Congresswoman and the cop follow up clues, shuffling into a hot club where their sexual tension couldn’t even be cut by a plastic spoon. There’s no comic relief either, except for sarcastic humor as Dutch tracks down sinister Detective George Beaufort (Now and Again’s Dennis Haysbert) to a bowling alley and throws a ball in a most inappropriate place while mumbling, “You thought bowling wouldn’t be this exciting.” The only other joke is thrown at Dutch as Kay wonders about his party affiliation.

Charles S. Dutton is solid in support as Dutch’s right-hand man, while Dylan Baker and Bonnie Hunt make very brief appearances as old friends of Kay, with Hunt offering a revealing morsel late in the film.

Random Hearts is creaky and grizzled. The only anguish you’ll see is when you look around at everyone else suffering in the audience (those not asleep), checking their watches every few minutes.

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