Armchair Cinephile 

Four films this week that could hardly be less similar, all with a common theme: Love is the one thing potent enough to save us from ourselves ...

Set in dry Central Texas, Tender Mercies (Anchor Bay) finds Robert Duvall washed up and drunk, a once-famous country music songwriter who is stranded by a buddy in a motel room he can't pay for. It is only Hollywood-natural that he'll fall for the woman who lets him work to pay for the room, but the pace at which things develop — the Texas-speak in which terms are negotiated without being spoken, and the world of unvoiced emotion that Duvall's manner reveals — are far from par for the movie-world course. Screenwriter Horton Foote presents possibilities for second chances that neither crash and burn nor change the world overnight. This is probably the best performance of Duvall's career, and that's saying quite a bit.

The Jack Nicholson-directed Goin' South (Paramount) is set in Texas as well — though in good rebel-indie fashion, the whole thing was shot in Mexico. A goofy but occasionally charming tale, it's located in an Old West town so depleted of men by the Civil War that a woman has the right to save a condemned man from the gallows if she would like to marry him. Thus the outlaw Nicholson becomes the husband (read: indentured servant) of a virginal Mary Steenburgen; the humor is mostly along the lines of Earthy-Rebel-taunts-Frigid-Square, until the last 30 minutes or so, when Steenburgen (in her first screen role) comes into her own and starts developing some real chemistry with her co-star. As you would expect from Jack, politically correct sensibilities are thrown to the wind, with John Belushi playing a blundering Mexican and rape figuring prominently into the happy couple's courtship.

Sean Connery plays a different kind of outlaw in Robin and Marian (Columbia/TriStar), a film by Richard Lester (Hard Day's Night, Three Musketeers) that picks up Robin Hood's tale 20 years after his glory. Lester depicts a Robin who has spent two decades in foreign lands, fighting for a King who doesn't deserve his loyalty, then returning to a lover (Audrey Hepburn) he should never have left. Lester gets to demythologize his hero while simultaneously giving him a chance to prove himself again; in the end, though, the traits that made Robin great are his downfall, and it falls upon Marian (who, when Robin left her, became a nun) to make things right.

A Beautiful Mind (Universal) has made it to DVD. It's not a great film, but it isn't as bad as a lot of us feared it might be. There are a number of really beautiful moments in it, and the performances save the story from being just another biopic that takes itself too seriously. Russell Crowe seems to be on his way to being one of those Al Pacino figures who can somehow over-act like crazy and still do justice to a role. Universal's two-disc "Awards Edition" has plenty of nice bonus material, but neither the director's commentary nor the featurette on scoring the film reveal whether a slice of the movie's boffo box office was sent to Philip Glass, whose music was cannibalized blatantly for James Horner's overture. If Ron Howard had truly wanted to recognize genius he would have hired Glass for this film, which is obsessed with patterns and numbers and divergent states of mind, all themes that minimalism addresses smartly.

More by John DeFore



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