DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
A PERFECT WORLD (director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriter: John Lee Hancock; cinematographer: Jack N. Green; editors: Joel Cox; music: Lennie Niehaus; cast: Clint Eastwood (Chief Red Garnett), Kevin Costner (Butch Haynes), Laura Dern (Sally Gerber), T. J. Lowther (Phillip Perry), Jennifer Griffin (Mrs. Perry), Keith Szarabajka (Terry Pugh), Leo Burmester (Tom Adler), Wayne Dehart (Mack), Dennis Letts (Governor), Bradley Whitford (FBI Sniper); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mark Johnson/ David Valdes; Warner Brothers; 1993)

"Entertaining manhunt film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

John Lee Hancock writes the screenplay that looks formulaic but veers enough in the end from formula not to appear formulaic and Clint Eastwood ("J. Edgar"/"Hereafter"/"Gran Torino") crisply directs and stars in this entertaining manhunt film, that falters a bit for presenting too much baloney psychology explaining youth gone bad and for its awkward overlong final sequence. The film is set in 1963, in the rural Texas panhandle. It might surprise Clint's fans that this is more of a character study than an action film, as there's no sense of urgency in nabbing the convicts on-the-run but has lots of time for humorous observations on such things as parenting, flawed father figures, caustic interactions between lawmen, and the changing climate for law enforcement.

Grizzly self-effacing aging Texas Ranger chief Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) is asked by the politically motivated governor to pursue two dangerous convicts who escaped on Halloween from the Huntsville prison and in a house break-in took as a hostage the fatherless eight-year-old Phillip Perry (T. J. Lowther), raised by his Jehovah Witness mom (Jennifer Griffin) to be devout. Red commandeers the governor's hi-tech Airglide trailer mobile home to be his headquarters while on the highway chasing down the escapees, the psychopath killer Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka) and the career criminal Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner). The governor assigns the progressive criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern) to go along to monitor the chase, while the FBI assigns a sniper (Bradley Whitford), Red's fellow Texas Ranger Tom Adler (Leo Burmester) is along to handle the radio transmission, while another deputy drives.

Butch eliminates in a corn field his sadistic escape partner after Terry already executed a prison guard hostage and threatened Phillip. The kid realizes Butch is not crazy bad like Terry and thereby the two outsiders forms a mostly positive surrogate father-son relationship. Taking time off the road chase to buy the kid some clothes in a hick town general store, the kid steals a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume and chooses to go with the charmer Butch rather than seek safety in the general store when the local police give chase.

As a back story we learn that Red arrested Butch when he was the sheriff of Amarillo, long ago, because the youngster stole a car to go on a joyride. The well-intentioned Red convinced the judge to give Butch a stiff sentence of four years, which he thought might be better than returning him to live with his no good abusive felon father and ineffective dance hall mom. When Butch was eight he killed the man who was assaulting his mom, but received no punishment.

Butch gets to like his kid hostage and opens up his softer side, but the doomed criminal can't run away from his fate and can't stop making bad decisions as he turns on a black sharecropper (Wayne Dehart) who befriended him but got Butch mad when he slapped his grand-son. This leads to the manhunt catching up with Butch. For Phillip the adventure is a learning experience, whereby he learns something from a hard-luck bad dude who might have been saved if the state institutions that look after children could function properly. Clint hangs the legal system out to dry and throws no bouquets to the insincere politicians and those trigger-happy police officers who resemble trigger-happy criminals. The result is a thoughtful film, framed like a western, that is more complex than its set pieces would indicate at first.

REVIEWED ON 1/6/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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