NO DOUBT, SYDNEY Pollack's best work as a director is behind him. Way behind him. Maybe that's why he broke with standard film-making to experiment with Random Hearts.
In most movies, a "plot" shapes the "action." Over the course of roughly 110 minutes, this "plot" unfolds until all the "loose ends" are tied up. Random Hearts also has one of these "plots," and it unfolds over 40 minutes, and by the end all the "loose ends" are, indeed, tied up. Then, for reasons beyond the comprehension of mortal filmgoers, the movie continues for another 93 minutes.
I wish I were making this up, because I'd love to get credit for this concept, but the movie actually sets out a mystery, solves it, and then just hangs out with the characters while they drink coffee and scratch themselves.
Basically, Harrison Ford is a cop. The kind of cop who is nicknamed "Dutch" even though it's no longer 1938. The kind of cop who responds to being told that he's "off the case" by saying "The hell I am!" and then going out and working on the case. I think somebody must have killed his partner at some point in the past, even though it's never mentioned in the film. You can just sort of feel it.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Kay Chandler, a congresswoman who likes to reflect out loud upon her current state of pretentious self-absorption by saying such things as, "Who is this woman wearing my clothes? Who is this woman using my body?" I don't know, Kristin Scott, but I'm guessing the answer is "You."
So anyway, Dutch the cop and Congresswoman Kay are drawn together when their respective spouses are killed in the same plane crash -- in adjoining seats -- seats that were reserved under "Mr. and Mrs."
Dutch the cop and Congresswoman Kay deal with the news about their spouses' extra-marital activities somewhat differently: Dutch wants to investigate, Kay wants to cover up. See, one's a cop, the other a congresswoman.
Anyway, after 40 minutes or so Dutch and the congresswoman come to terms with each other (i.e. they get it on) and solve all the mysteries concerning their ex-spouses. After that, I really can't begin to comprehend why the film continues. It's as though director Sydney Pollack just looked at a stack of unused film canisters and said, "What the hell -- keep shooting!"
The first part, where there's still some question about what's going to happen next, is extremely well paced. Pollack never holds a shot for more than 10 seconds, and most are cut after three or four seconds, but this is not obtrusive, MTV-style cutting. Rather, it functions in a more subtle way to keep the picture tense and the action moving. It's so effective that there's never a lag or a boring moment. For 40 minutes. After that the film could have been cut more rapidly than the NEA budget and it still wouldn't have been interesting.
Somewhere in the middle of the movie, realizing that he's used up all the plot alloted him by the plot department for this flick, Pollack gets desperate. There's a random scene where Dutch the cop walks into a fashion shoot full of models changing into and out of lingerie. The camera, hungry for something interesting to shoot, lingers over these unnamed and completely extraneous models. A truly surreal moment: it's as though a Shannon Tweed film just hijacked Random Hearts.
The movie breaks down on just about every level after that. What had been one of the more enjoyable soundtracks of recent cinema, featuring a jazz score by Dave Grusin, becomes increasingly irritating as it settles on one short theme and plays it over and over again. Harrison Ford's single facial expression struggles to free itself from the bizarre rictus that has taken over his mouth. Kristin Scott Thomas breaks away from the script to shout, "I want to finish it! I want it over!" Me too, KS!
But it will not end. You'd think, seeing that he was short on story, Pollack would have trimmed the film to the bare minimum length required for theatrical release, a little over 70 minutes. But, inexplicably, the movie runs for two hours and 13 minutes.
The only excuse for this would be if Pollack actually was attempting some kind of weird, experimental cinema. On that level, it's actually an interesting idea: imagine what the characters are doing after all the events in an ordinary film have ended. The answer, it turns out, is "Not much."
It's a bit of a shame, really, as there are some fine actors wasted in this non-movie. Sydney Pollack, who's much better in front of the camera than behind it, gives his usual seamless performance as Congresswoman Kay's media advisor. Dylan Baker, who was so effectively chilling in Happiness, has a small part as Congresswoman Kay's friend.
Kristin Scott Thomas is also pretty decent, if by "pretty decent" I mean "has some of the best cheekbones in Hollywood."
Then there's Harrison Ford, who just gets worse with age. Although it's not entirely his fault, the scene where he looks longingly at Congresswoman Kay and then lunges to kiss her evoked loud peals of laughter in the theater where I saw the film. The absurdity of that scene kind of summed up the whole experience. The two of them have just lost their spouses and have shown no attraction to each other. Suddenly, there's Ford with his one expression (some weird cross between "intense"and "confused") leaping to kiss Congresswoman Kay as she alternately returns his kisses and slaps him. I think I can speak for everyone when I say "Huh?"