Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood is a great director. Unfortunately, he's not a writer, so his flawed films almost always come from flawed scripts. "A Perfect World" is a flawed film but it's also a good one, with moments of greatness, largely due to Eastwood's direction. He has a way of turning familiar genre elements into elegant, weird poetry, and he's got a lean, economical eye that cuts a lot of bullshit out of a scene even when the words being spoken are false or overdone. The problems with this film exist largely in the scenes featuring Eastwood as a Texas Ranger, Laura Dern as a criminologist, and Bradley Whitford as an FBI sharpshooter, with Dern completely wasted in a role in which every single line rings false. I like Eastwood and Dern as actors and I was expecting to enjoy their time onscreen, but their characters are poorly written and their scenes together seem both perfunctory and oddly truncated. How odd, then, that the film's greatness comes from scenes featuring Kevin Costner, an actor who bores the hell out of me, and a cute kid. Somehow, Costner is good and the cute kid is great, and their scenes together are full of a tension arising from not knowing what the hell either of their characters are going to do. In an inspired choice, the kid wears a Casper the Friendly Ghost outfit for much of the film, lending his scenes a photogenic surreality that fits the story's dream-like pacing. And while the intense mood of the film's ending is stupidly broken by someone getting a knee to the groin in a poorly timed moment of comic relief, an earlier scene of Costner and the kid spending the night at a black farmer's home is one of the finest scenes in the last several years of film. This scene, in which a peaceful reverie erupts into menace and impending violence, soundtracked by a stuck record playing some weird atonal free-jazz/bagpipe/blues waltz thing, is one of the strongest, strangest, and most unpredictable scenes ever to grace a mainstream Hollywood movie.

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