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IN SHORT: A four star weeper.
Message in a Bottle is such an incredibly sad story, even as chick flicks go, that even the femme fans walking out of the sneak preview were upset. Cranky did a lot of interviewing after this one, folks. The parts of the movie the female audience didn't like were the sole parts of interest to those of us of the male persuasion. I'll get to that in a 'graph or two. Outside of that, the ladies in general expressed a sadness that to them was, almost, unexpressible.
The messages in the bottle of the title are written in that same kind of poetic lingo of that last sentence, but better. It's a whisper thin story that would have been a disaster in any other hands but, surprise, Message in a Bottle is a very well made film. I hold back from saying great (though the acting is) because that's a huzzah best reserved for film students. Message in A Bottle will bore the crap out of the guys. It will, and did have, the women in the audience sniffling way before there is any plot-wise reason to sniffle. That reads like the most backhanded of compliments, but that's what it is.
Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright Penn) is the divorced mom of preteen boy Jason (Jesse James). Theresa has seen her ex move off, remarry and have more kids with his new wife and is fairly lonely and miserable. While on a quiet week's vacation she literally finds a message in a bottle. The letter within is so soulfully written and touching that she is immediately touched. When boss Charlie Toschi (Robbie Coltrane), a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, publishes the letter she's pissed off. But the torrent of mail that comes in in response leads to two more messages found and encouragement by Theresa's friend Lina (Ileana Douglas) to track down the original writer. The leads point to North Carolina, where she meets Dodge Blake (Paul Newman) and his son Garrett (Kevin Costner). Garrett does odd jobs restoring boats. Dodge is an ex-drunk who reports that his son "talks about as much as a fish." A better description of a stock Costner character I can't think of.
Garrett has a life as unfinished as the ribs of an unfinished sailing ship sitting in his workshop. His wife Catherine, the object of the letters, had died two years earlier leaving an empty place in his heart and very bad blood between him and Catherine's brother Johnny (John Savage). The confrontations between the two men is the guy stuff I talked about. Other than that and one scene between Costner and Newman, fellas, nod off. Telling more detail than that will ruin the flick for the ladies.
What Message in a Bottle is, is the most difficult of movies to make and keep interesting. It is, basically, a series of two actor scenes. Penn and Newman. Penn and Costner. Costner and Newman. Beautiful Windham Hill type music in the score. Gorgeous photography with lots of landscapes and beaches and fireplaces and all that other standard romantic film stuff. A couple of music video-type sequences dropped in to lengthen the film.
Even before Message in a Bottle's chick flick stuff kicks in (an ex of mine, a true waterworks, will be devastated) you know you're watching utterly top notch actors at the peak of their powers. The film is probably most effective if you've got a number of broken hearts under your belt. Definitely not for teenboys.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Message in a Bottle, he would have paid . . .
Date flick level, for you guys to show how
sensitive you are. If I were writing as a film student the numbers would
be much higher. Message in a Bottle is, as far as the craft of
film goes, absolutely superb. Sad as hell, but superb.
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