Release Date: April 02, 1999
Starring: Glenn Close, Liv Tyler,
Julianne Moore, Charles S.
Dutton, Patricia Neal, Ned
Beatty, Chris O'Donnell, Lyle
Runtime: 118 minutes
Distributor: October Films
Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Robert Altman & Etchie Stroh
Writer: Anne Rapp
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Acclaimed director Robert Altman's movies have always seemed to contain a shallow core. Although he often displays an extremely deft hand with his actors, getting magical performances even from such actors as Elliott Gould, his characters and stories often seem contrived and hollow, filled with slight, sometimes even offensive, messages. This was most evident in his portrayal of Major Frank Burns in the movie M*A*S*H, whose Christian prayer was mocked by the heroes in the movie and who was eventually revealed as a religious hypocrite who commits adultery, then goes crazy. It was also evident in his over-rated, back-handed homage to Country & Western music, NASHVILLE, a forgettable example of artistic pretentiousness.
Altman returns to an anti-Christian worldview in the movie, COOKIE'S FORTUNE. Glenn Close plays Camille Dixon, a prideful, conniving "Christian" whose one prayer in the movie totally contradicts the nefarious actions she commits in the rest of the movie. The prayer comes out of nowhere and seems to be merely an opportunity for Altman to display his anti-Christian bigotry.
The slowly evolving plot in this movie concerns Camille's attempt to wrest her Aunt Cookie's fortune away from her sister's daughter, Emma, a young ne'er do well named Emma, played by the young Liv Tyler. Aunt Cookie commits suicide because she dreadfully misses her late husband. Camille is the first to arrive at the scene and, with her pliant sister Cora's help, makes the suicide look like murder, because "respectable people don't commit suicide, only crazy people do."
Regrettably, Camille's actions help pin the faked crime on a middle-aged black man named Willis, played by Charles S. Dutton in a fine performance. Willis is a long-time family friend and lives in Aunt Cookie's guest house. Willis helped clean Cookie's gun collection, an inheritance from her late husband, so his fingerprints point to him as the natural suspect. Eventually, the comical police investigation unearths family secrets having to do with race and adultery, unmasks small-town loyalties and rivalries, and unravels the fate of Cookie's fortune.
Since the reprobate Camille is the only character who does any religious activity tied directly to Christianity (a bedtime prayer naming Jesus), the anti-Christian implications of Altman's worldview in this movie become clear, as they did in M*A*S*H. Lending weight to this is the fact that Camille seems to be the only one who does not care about anyone else, only herself. Even the docile Cora, who seems to have resigned herself to being under Camille's thumb, displays empathy for other people. Thus, the whole movie seems carefully, if subtly, contrived to offend Christians. It's a planned set-up from start to finish. The fact that it's subtly done makes it that much more insidious and offensive.
Ironically, COOKIE'S FORTUNE also seems to include unintentional negative stereotypes of the African Americans in the small town, all of whom congregate in a small, seedy-looking blues bar, even though the outside investigator who comes to help the local police is himself black. It will be interesting to see if media critics will pick up on this aspect.
Consequently, despite some charming moments, COOKIE'S FORTUNE deserves the lowest possible acceptability rating we can give it. Quality-wise, it is only a fairly interesting Altman movie that fails to measure up to his best works, such as THE LONG GOODBYE or THE PLAYER.