Director Sydney Pollack (seen most recently in "Eyes Wide Shut") was on top of the world back in the Eighties. With a number of impressive films to his credit, including "Tootsie", "Absence of Malice", and "Three Days of the Condor", Pollack also garnered an Academy Award for his work on "Out of Africa" in 1984. Unfortunately, his latest effort, "Random Hearts", is pretty much indicative of the work he has done since those halcyon days (the unimpressive "Sabrina" remake was the last time he sat in the director's chair). "Random Hearts", which has taken liberties with the 1984 novel by Warren Adler, spins an interesting premise around the serendipitous discovery of adulterous betrayal in the aftermath of a plane crash. And though some of the alterations made by Kurt Luedtke's script provide some positive opportunities for elevating the dramatic tension between the two key players, the end result is a cold and lethargic romance that never gets off the ground.
The setting is Washington, D.C., and it is just another day for two couples. Sgt. Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford of "Air Force One"), an Internal Affairs officer with the District of Columbia Police Department, sees his wife off before heading off to court, and they make plans to meet up for dinner later that night. Meanwhile, at the other end of the city, Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas of "The Horse Whisperer"), a Congresswoman from New Hampshire that's up for re-election, kisses her husband good-bye while being bombarded with a maelstrom of activity related to her campaign. Dutch and Kay may be two worlds apart, but a tragic accident ends up bringing them together.
Later that morning, a passenger airline bound for Miami plunges into the icy waters of Chesapeake Bay with no survivors. At first, Dutch and Kay pay little attention to the breaking news story, but they soon learn that their respective spouses were both on the plane, seated together as a married couple, on their way to a secret weekend tryst. It is an unsettling revelation for both Dutch and Kay-- he was under the mistaken impression that his was a happy marriage, while she is trying to cope with the possible consequences of the news on both her daughter's well-being and her hopes of winning a second term in Congress. Torn between the desire to put the past behind them and the insatiable curiosity over the 'hows' and 'whys', Dutch and Kay begin an unlikely partnership to delve into the unsavory relationship between their deceased spouses. However, as they discover more about the betrayals in their respective marriages, a passion between the cop and the congresswoman is set alight.
Sitting through the two-and-a-half hours of "Random Hearts" is as much fun as watching paint dry-- you know you're in for a long one when it takes nearly forty-five minutes for the two main characters to hook up. This poorly paced romance has no credibility, no sense of urgency, and most important of all, no passion. Dutch and Kay are two of the most boring people you could ever meet-- he is a humorless man of few words, while she is guarded and distant, making these two characters not the type of people you could easily have a conversation with.
Between the two characters, Kay is the more interesting, since she undergoes the greatest awakening, stepping beyond the sheltered life orchestrated by her campaign managers and spin doctors, and into a confrontation of the ugly parts of her past. Unfortunately, this transformation ends up a hollow victory, as the story diminishes Kay's accomplishments with an emotionally underwhelming resolution that throws away one of her main goals without an adequate explanation. Dutch, on the other hand, is determined to learn as much as he can about his wife's transgressions, and relentlessly pursues each new clue, which is not surprising given the tenacity he demonstrates in his work as an Internal Affairs investigator.
Given his no-nonsense demeanor, it is difficult to comprehend what it is that Kay sees in him and it becomes quite unbelievable when Dutch and Kay begin their passionate affair literally out of the blue. With no chemistry between Ford and Thomas, and no rationale for their two characters to fall in love, the story lumbers along in a mechanical fashion, going through the motions on auto-pilot, as if on cue.
The film's weaknesses are further exacerbated by Pollack's aimless direction, as if he was trying to cram too much into the story. With unnecessary exposition, scenes that start too early and end too late, uninteresting (and often laughable) dialogue, and a corrupt cop subplot that drags on far too long, "Random Hearts" feels a lot longer than it actually is. About the only saving grace is Philippe Rousselot's lensing which brings some warmth to the otherwise emotionally cold picture. Unfortunately, pretty pictures alone do not make a good film.
Sydney Pollack, Harrison Ford, and Kristin Scott Thomas have all done much better work, and it is inconceivable how so much talent could be wasted on such a mediocre film. With its sluggish execution, go-nowhere story, and brooding atmosphere, "Random Hearts" wastes an intriguing premise and ends up being an unbearable exercise in patience.