Random Hearts

Random Hearts. Rastar Pictures 1999.
Random Hearts. Rastar Pictures 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I first heard of this movie in In The Can, a book about Hollywood missteps. When I selected it, I didn’t remember what the book had to say about it (I may have confused it with another entry), but I was fairly certain it had been in the book. I have a particular interest in movies that had potential but made a critical error, and in this case it sounds like a minor problem rippling outward: according to the book, Harrison Ford’s fame took too much focus that could have been spent on more interesting characters. Now I can decide for myself if that’s the case.

After watching the movie:

Washington, D.C. Internal Affairs cop Dutch Van Der Broeck and Congresswoman Kay Chandler have nothing in common. One morning Dutch’s wife makes a business trip to Miami, and Kay’s husband goes to see a client in New York. A Washington-Miami plane crashes, and though Dutch is sure his wife was on the plane, they have no record of her on that flight or any flight, and while Kay is sure her husband was bound to New York, she’s informed of his death on that flight. Dutch learns his wife was flying under the name of Mrs. Chandler, and goes to meet Kay to try to find answers about the affair, but Kay not only wants it quiet for her career, she wants it left to the past so she doesn’t have to think about it. But Dutch won’t let it rest, and the more he probes, the more she wants answers too, while finding themselves drawn to each other.

Ford’s character certainly had a lot of focus as the one driving the hunt for the truth, but that comes from the script. In the Can laid the blame for Ford’s dull character drawing narrative attention on the director, but unless the director was heavily involved in the screenplay, it wouldn’t have been his fault. Also I couldn’t imagine it differently without a major restructuring, so I read a summary of the novel it was based on, which does seem to be more evenly weighted between them, and involves less investigation. I suppose more of Kay’s congressional career (not part of the book) could have been interesting, but the movie is already comfortably over two hours long and Dutch’s case at work is the source of a lot of exciting scenes that buoy interest in the story.

This film is, in fact, dull overall. It’s a quiet, introspective drama about two people’s lives being disrupted by a revealing tragedy, and perhaps all of the scenes work well by themselves, but they’re rather monotonous all together. It’s a good effort to strike a tone Hollywood films often don’t attempt, but the mix is off. It’s two hours of being hurt and sad and spiraling self-destructively toward each other until the clock runs out and a breaking point is reached. The relentless search for answers turns unintentionally comical when Dutch wonders at one point how their spouses handled laundry at their secret apartment.

Harrison Ford of course plays his role beautifully. Kristin Scott Thomas capably handles what she’s been given, but perhaps if a bigger star had been in her place the producer or director would have had the writers find a better balance. The fact that I thought the woman playing Dutch’s wife (Susanna Thompson) was Kathleen Turner probably says more about how little I know what Kathleen Turner looks like, especially since, come to think about it, I was thinking of her in roles from ten years earlier.

I think nothing would have helped this movie more than some variety, but it’s hard to say what that variety ought to be when the tone is sadness peppered with anger. There’s no thematic room for anything happy, which is all I can think of.  And yet, even though I was bored, I found myself invested in where the plot was going and where I hoped it wouldn’t.  So there is a good story in there somewhere. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t told very well.

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