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FLESH AND BONE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: Steven Kloves
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: April 16, 2002

“Scary sometimes.”

“What's that?”

“Moments. Little split-seconds of time where you find yourself capable of things you would never even think of doing normally.”

Film ****

Flesh and Bone is a remarkable film of a rare type. It has many tones to it, and succeeding in touching every one of them at the right time. It contains elements of romance, drama, suspense, and small doses of humor, while at the heart of the movie, lies a haunting tale of a doomed father/son partnership that the latter part of the two has tried to run away from for so long. It is also one of the most beautifully shot and photographed movies I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, whose other credits include Interview With the Vampire and Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes, beautifully captures the brisk, quiet landscapes of the Texas countryside. Watching the film, I was even reminded of the wondrous images of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. It provides a most perfect backdrop for this quietly paced film about a man escaping his past.

The film opens with a striking sequence. A man finds a boy outside his home by himself. Assuming he has been abandoned or lost, he takes the boy in to stay with the man's family. Later that night, while the family is asleep, a break in occurs. The young boy, as it turns out, is a decoy for the break in, executed by his father (James Caan), a cold-blooded thief. The man doesn't only rob the house, but ends up killing the father, mother, and son of the family his son had apparently set up. Only one survivor remains, which is a baby girl.

Cut to thirty years later, and the guilt-stricken son, Arlis Sweeny (Dennis Quaid) has grown up to be a quiet man who acquires a suiting job. He's a vending machine stocker who moves from town to town. It's a job that suits Arlis since it serves as comfort for him, as well as a way of shielding away bad memories from the past. Then during a normal run, he encounters the wildly behaved Kay (Meg Ryan).  He sees her in a bar, serving as a supposed stripper, but when she appears drunk and passes out, he carries her out, and helps her recover. Kay, it turns out, is unhappily married to a lowlife, which explains her reason for working at bars. Kay grows to like Arlis, even though he behaves strangely towards her.

The situation grows very complicated when Kay shows him a photo of her family from way back, and it turns out to be the family that Arlis' father wiped out. Not too long after that, the father shows up unexpectedly, looking to reunite with Arlis especially when the occasion is to wipe out the remaining part of the murdered family, in the exact same setting no less. Arlis, now deeply in love with Kay, doesn't want her to know anything of the dirty deed he help to commit thirty years ago. He also wants nothing to do with his father, even though at the same time, he fears him deeply.

Flesh and Bone gets all the cards in both directing and acting. Steven Kloves, who also wrote the wonderful screenplay for Wonder Boys, has created a wonderfully subtle and haunting film, in addition to capturing the brisk atmosphere. The performances are top-notch quality, including a change of pace for Dennis Quaid, whose performance here is something of a tour de force. The same is the case with Meg Ryan, who gives her first pure dramatic performance, which would lead up to her monumental work in Courage Under Fire. And James Caan delivers an original sense of menace as the ferocious beast of a father. The film also features one of the first appearances of Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays a sleek con woman who is in cahoots with the Caan character.

Flesh and Bone is a superb, high powered drama about inner demons, and about characters vowing not to let them come back to haunt again.

Video ****

The look of Flesh and Bone is key to the film's effectiveness, and Paramount has enlightened this quality with a picture perfect anamorphic presentation. Image is thoroughly clear, consistently sharp, and endlessly alive with enormously vibrant colors. The scenes set out in the Texas landscape are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as scenery you'll ever see on the DVD format. Darker images, for a change, come through just as impressive. A wonderfully flawless Paramount offering.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack does what it can with a film that is mostly dialogue oriented more than anything else. There are individual moments, especially during scenes of nicely tuned moments of suspense, where the sound is nicely captured even in moments of pure silence. Other than that, this happens to be one of the movies that won't enhance a sound system to maximum quality, but it's good enough for what it is.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Flesh and Bone is a quiet, subtle masterpiece of the rarest form. A triumph on all accounts, from terrific acting, to breathtaking atmosphere and cinematography.