Teaching family values with a twist on the cross-Texas road trip, Butch tells Phillip he has "all-American rights" to carnivals, trick or treat, cotton candy and roller coasters.
"A Perfect World" is a manhunt that jumps to life in the hands of an exceptional cast. A killer who beaks out of jail, takes a young boy hostage, and is tracked by a good cop is hardly a novel idea, but Director Clint Eastwood has drawn such subtle, touching and multi-layered performances from his actors that the movie is absorbing from start to finish.
Red Garnett (Eastwood) is a Texas Ranger under orders from the governor to make a showcase capture of the escaped criminal in an election year. The governor assigns Sally Gerber (Laura Dern), a criminal justice expert, to the reluctant Red who quickly recognizes that her flippancy covers knowledge and experience crucial to the hunt. Red commandeers the governor's showy, high tech silver trailer and begins the chase.
Meanwhile, Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) has abducted Phillip (T.J. Lowther) from his pious Jehovah's Witness mother, two sisters and no dad. Teaching family values with a twist on the cross-Texas road trip, Butch tells Phillip he has "all-American rights" to carnivals, trick or treat, cotton candy and roller coasters. He tries quietly to give Phillip the things he had missed himself.
Meanwhile, back at the silver trailer, Red's team is cooking steak and tater-tots over a bonfire after an unseemly glitch stalls their search. The story unfolds quietly and with humor. Villainy is settled in two peripheral characters, a bad criminal and a bad cop. Freed from good vs. evil, the three at the core of the film reveal themselves very slowly through laconic southern banter. In the absence of frenzy, the characters become fully alive.
The pace shifts suddenly in a superb scene in the home of a black farm family. Triggered by the farmer's cruel treatment of his grandson, Butch punishes him in a violent eruption of rage at the suffering of the terrified little boy. It's a scene of tremendous tension and superb acting, of violence and resolution that includes, incredibly, a very beautiful dance.
Kevin Costner's flat voice works well in Texas. Fingering his cigarettes lovingly and drawing the smoke to the bottom of his lungs in soothing pleasure, he reminds us of the carefree days before the Surgeon General robbed a generation of its addiction. If smoking, murder and kidnapping are politically incorrect subjects for humor these days, this is one time to suspend earnest beliefs for two hours and enjoy a very warm story that is made without sentimentality.
Clint Eastwood brings his natural grace to a role he knows well, but it is his directing that is remarkable. He avoids absolutely the mawkish sentiment that might have infused this story. Perhaps his greatest victory is the thoroughly surprising and convincing portrait he has pulled from Kevin Costner as a man carrying a boy's scars. "I only killed two people, Phillip. One hurt my mama, and one hurt you." Don't miss this one.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 480
Studio: Warner Bros.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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