Picks and Pans Review: Second Best

updated 10/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

William Hurt, Christopher Cleary Miles, John Hurt, Keith Allen

William Hurt plays a bachelor postmaster in a village in Wales, who, with his own aged (and long-since estranged) father dying, decides to adopt a child. At an orphanage he meets Miles, a 10-year-old whose shattered family (displayed in disjointed, tough-to-follow flashbacks) has left him susceptible to violent, self-destructive tantrums.

Hurt is stranded in a one-dimensional character. Still, the actor marvelously evokes hopelessly confused feelings of father-son attachment. Hurt must sort out not only his and the boy's lives but his relationship to his father, played strikingly, despite a stroke-induced muteness, by Alfred Lynch.

Director Chris Menges seems to rush the film to its conclusion, resolving a half dozen crises in the last 10 minutes. A suicide is recalled, AIDS appears in the village, and, least convincingly, Hurt unnecessarily pressures the boy to accept him because he doesn't want to be second best to his son, as he was to his father. (PG-13)

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