Picks and Pans Review: A Perfect World
Surprising and involving, but very implausible, this is an unorthodox chase movie that has one marvelous acting job and an only occasionally draggy pace. It also gets by with a restrained use of violence (albeit way too much violence, especially violence against children, for its rating, which also understates the film's use of reflexive obscenity).
Costner is a career criminal who escapes from a Texas prison where he's serving an armed-robbery sentence. While stealing a car, he almost coincidentally kidnaps a 7-year-old Jehovah's Witness boy, Lowther, and uses him as a hostage.
Eastwood, who is also directing for the first time since 1992's Academy Award-winning Unforgiven, plays a resolute Texas Ranger who leads the hunt for Costner, while Dern has a role that is not just a token, but an anachronistic token at that—as a pedantic, defiantly assertive, compulsively cute criminologist assigned to help Eastwood on the manhunt.
Costner, in his first all-out bad-guy outing, uses his standard deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression but then he has an impossible role. He portrays a man who vacillates, willy-nilly, between hard-case, cold-blooded killer and self-righteously indignant New Age sensitive type, leaping to the defense of imperiled children all over Texas, ostensibly because he himself was abused by his father.
Meanwhile, Lowther—who really is only 7 and who made his screen debut just recently in A Home of Our Own—is setting new standards for child actors, displaying everything from fear to admiration to confusion in the face of the ruthless but ingratiating con. The young performer peaks in a scene where he is forced to choose between his mother, who has caught up with him, and Costner, who offers him dreams of forbidden pleasures. Lowther, suggesting the terrible conflict the boy is feeling, not only equals even the best of a year of exceptional juvenile performances; this is as good a male acting job as there has been in years.
Eastwood the actor does his standard laconic riff. He manages to seem authentic even though he is saddled with the worst of screenwriter John Lee Hancock's stilted script: "If you've got something stuck in your craw, just spit it out!" he yells at Dern.
The ending, while it features a clever twist, depends dishonestly on Costner's star appeal.
The whole closing sequence expects the audience to sympathize with the escaping con. It's Costner's popularity that generates any sympathy, however, not the alienated criminal character, who hypocritically risks the lives of specific children even as he pretends to defend them in general.
Eastwood has all of his cameras and booms well-situated. But this film's heart is in the wrong place—by a big distance. (PG-13)
In the 150 years since Scrooge was conceived, he and the other characters in Dickens's A Christmas Carol have been served up more ways than a truckload of holiday turkeys. Dickens himself adapted the tale for the stage, and the first screen treatment appeared in 1908. Since then, there have been musical Carols, cartoon Carols—even a 1950s cowboy Carol on CE Theater with Jimmy Stewart. Below, a look back from the present, when visions of Christmas past tend to be available on videocassette.