The romantic drama genre is back in force with an interesting and moving, but flawed, story about two survivors of the ultimate marital heartbreak when their better, or should we say, cheatin’, halves lose their lives in an airline crash on their to way to a weekend adulterous tryst. Then again, when it comes to stars like Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, even a rather far-fetched plot like this can have its merits.
Ford plays Dutch Van Den Broeck, an internal affairs sergeant with the Washington, D.C. police department who’s on the verge of busting a rogue detective played with nasty ferocity by Dennis Haysbert. Dutch’s wife Peyton (Susanna Thompson) is a buyer for a prestigious department store. She’s about to go off to Florida on a company trip for the weekend to witness a fashion photo shoot. On the other side of town, Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas), is a struggling congresswoman facing an uphill battle for re-election. Her husband, Cullen (Peter Coyote), is a successful high-profile lawyer who tells Kay he will need to go to New York for the weekend to take care of some important legal matters. The real truth is that both Mr. Chandler and Mrs. Van Den Broeck are on their way to meet each other, and, although they do not know it yet, rather than sunny Miami Beach, they are bound instead for oblivion in a deadly airline crash into the Chesapeake Bay.
As the news of the crash begins to filter out through the media, it doesn’t seem to register seriously with Dutch at first. Yet, when he hears a message from his wife on their answering machine, he puts two and two together and tries to find out if Peyton had been on the ill-fated flight. Here is where the plot thickens. Although Dutch’s wife had to be on that flight, her name is not on the passenger list. Why not? As Dutch is trying to cope with his mounting anguish, and the stress of his police work, the bodies are finally extracted from the crash, and Dutch confirms his worst fears. Kay Chandler is also informed that her husband had perished on a flight, which was headed for Florida instead of New York City. How could that be?
Dutch painfully begins to uncover his wife’s affair, he concludes that, if there is to be any closure, he must find out everything he can about her secret life. His inquiry leads him straight to Kay’s door, but she is more eager to put the whole thing behind her rather than learn more about her husband’s adulterous lifestyle. Good cop that he is, Dutch is not about to let it go, and he pursues the matter with quiet determination. As he does, tension begins to increase, perhaps more in anticipation by the audience than by the inevitable romance to follow.
Touted as a romantic thriller, RANDOM HEARTS is not suspenseful enough nor convoluted enough to qualify and is more reminiscent of romantic dramas of old made famous, and eternally enduring, by such screen giants as Carole Lombard, Audrey Hepburn, Van Johnson, and Cary Grant, to name a few. In time this movie may be looked at in the same way, but for the time being, it falls considerably short of greatness. A lot of the fault must fall squarely on director Sydney Pollack who, instead of acting in even his small role, perhaps should have concentrated more on directing the movie.
Based on a novel by Warren Adler, this is a good story which is sadly marred by undisciplined dramatic direction, heavy footed staging, biased political statements favoring Democrats, an unnecessary bedroom sex scene, and lack of attention to detail such as repeatedly running the same extras across the camera’s field of view. For an accomplished director as Sydney Pollack, whose credits include OUT OF AFRICA and THE WAY WE WERE, this lazy style of direction is inexcusable. Mr. Pollack also missed a wonderful opportunity to stand alone and for a change avoid the obligatory bedroom sex scene which was not only poorly crafted, but did not do a thing for the romantic development of the story other than satisfy the voyeuristic people in the audience.
Although audiences may be partial to see Harrison Ford as Han Solo, or Jack Ryan, or Indiana Jones again and again, he still seems to be uncomfortable playing the role of the grief stricken, loving husband who has been living a lie. It was only when he acted as a cop trying to get the job done that he regained a solid footing on the script. One revealing shot where he seemed on the verge of crying but is rescued by Kay just in the nick of time is a perfect example of his inability, or the director’s, to realistically bring that emotional moment to life. Kristin Scott Thomas on the other hand played her role in understated fashion but nevertheless projected a powerful magnetism and presence which was hard to ignore. She captured the screen with a strength which never let go.
For all of its shortcomings and pagan worldview, at a time when so much of what is produced by Hollywood begins and ends in despair, it was good seeing a movie for a change which had characters who are able to endure and, in the end, triumph over their misery by choosing truth over lies, and good over evil.
Romantic worldview of romantic inevitability with politically correct politics & some moral moments of choosing truth over lies; 17 mostly mild obscenities, 6 profanities & some sexual references; depicted shooting, implied murder, implied plane accident that kills many people, & some brief fighting; implied adultery & briefly depicted fornication; models in underwear, cleavage shots, side female nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, adultery, lying & cheating.