Screenplay : Kurt Luedtke (based on the novel by Warren Adler; adaptation by Darryl Ponicsan)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Harrison Ford (Dutch Van Den Broeck), Kristin Scott Thomas (Kay Chandler), Charles S. Dutton (Alcee), Bonnie Hunt (Wendy Judd), Dennis Haysbert (Detective George Beaufort), Sydney Pollack (Carl Broman), Richard Jenkins (Truman Trainor), Paul Guilfoyle (Dick Montoya), Susanna Thompson (Peyton Van Den Broeck), Peter Coyote (Cullen Chandler)
Kristen Scott Thomas must truly relish starring in long, melancholy romantic epics opposite quiet, brooding leading men. In 1996, she starred opposite a quiet, brooding Ralph Fiennes in "The English Patient," a film that teetered on the edge of greatness. In 1998, she starred opposite a quite, brooding Robert Redford in "The Horse Whisperer," an unmemorable, but certainly watchable romance. And now, it's 1999, and here we have Scott Thomas opposite a truly brooding Harrison Ford in Sydney Pollack's "Random Hearts," a silly movie parading as a deep exploration of soul-numbing pain.
The story concerns Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford), a Washington, DC Internal Affairs police investigator who discovers that his wife has been engaged in a long-time affair. He discovers this only because she is killed while sitting next to her lover when the plane she wasn't supposed to be on crashes into the ocean. Her lover happens to be the husband of Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas), a New Hampshire Congresswoman who is up for re-election.
The discovery of adultery sends Dutch off on an intense mission of psychological self-abuse. He wants to know everything about his wife's affair: who the lover was, where and when they met to have sex, how long it's been going on, and so forth. Why he wants to know all this information is never fully explained. Perhaps it has something to do with his status as a police investigator who can leave no stone unturned. Perhaps it is because he feels cheated, and he thinks the only way he can ease the pain is by knowing all the details. Or, perhaps it's just because he's a sadomasochist.
Once Dutch begins to pry into the affair, he comes into contact with Kay, who simply wants to forget the whole thing (for many reasons, including the fact that the media will have a field day with the knowledge that the Congresswoman up for re-election had a straying husband). The scene in which Dutch and Kay first meet, and he informs her that their respective spouses were involved, is a perfect summation of the movie as a whole: long, drawn-out, and not very involving. Pollack seems to think that long moments of silence are indicative of deep meaning, and he drills these moments into the ground time and time again.
Needless to day, Dutch and Kay eventually become romantically involved. Why? Once again, it's never quite explained, although the best guess is that they are both suffering the same kind of pain, and they see in each other an outlet for their anguish. The only time the movie shows any intention of getting above general lethargy is when Dutch and Kay find that outlet and get physical in the front seat of her Lincoln, an unexpectedly rough-and-tumble sequence that marks the heaviest petting in an automobile since James Spader and Holly Hunt turned up the heat in "Crash" (1996).
Unfortunately, moments like that are the exception; the rest of the film simply drags along. For the majority of "Random Hearts," Pollack directs with a heavy hand, and in the process he drags his performers down. Harrison Ford has never been so ineffective. Sporting an inexplicable stud earring and a burr haircut that makes him look like a used Brill-O pad, Ford plods through the movie with rarely a smile. It's always sad to see the energy sapped from an actor so dynamic. Scott Thomas is somewhat better as Kay, probably because she has the more interesting character.
The screenplay, written by "Out of Africa" scribe Kurt Luedtke (based on the novel by Warren Adler, which was adapted by Darryl Ponicsan), doesn't help matters. The film is hampered by a number of pointless subplots, including one that involves Dutch trying to bust a couple of crooked cops. It ends with the world's most inept drive-by shooting that nonetheless puts Dutch in the hospital, and allows a convenient plot device to separate him and Kay until the denouement.
The main story is ostensibly set up as some kind of romantic mystery, but we're given most of what we need to know in the first 15 minutes, leaving us with two hours of Dutch hunting and searching for something, anything. At one point, while standing in the apartment their spouses had rented for their frequent rendezvous, Kay asks Dutch in an exasperated tone, "What are you looking for?," and I wanted to stand up and yell "Yes, what are you looking for?"
Of course, "Random Hearts" is supposed to be about so much more than just adultery and finding out facts. Pollack is striving for some kind of grand statement about life and pain and marriage and romance, with a little bit of political satire thrown in for good measure (Pollack casts himself as a political spin doctor who relishes the fact that the public is "eating up" Kay's new widowhood).
The answer to Kay's (and my) question about what Dutch is looking for is that what he is looking for can't be found, and that's the great paradox of the human dilemma. A meaningful philosophical statement, yes, but you won't have any greater understanding of it after watching "Random Heart."
©1999 James Kendrick