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Sydney Pollack has made an interesting and engrossing film in Random Hearts. It is being marketed as a love story – which it is – so some will complain that the police procedural part is a distraction. It isn’t, of course, any more than the political part is a distraction. Pollack is too intelligent a director to throw in meaningless subplots. All the elements of this story weave around themes about the uses and misuses of information, and related consequences of trust and distrust.
Dutch Ven Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) is a sergeant in Internal Affairs at the Washington, DC police department where he is stymied in resolving a case of police corruption. At an unhurried, but well-calculated pace, Pollack shows how Ven Den Broeck comes to learn that his wife has been killed in a plane crash and that she was traveling with her lover, the husband of a member of the U.S. Congress.
Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas) is the member of Congress, running for reelection against unexpected competition from a pharmaceuticals mogul. She, too, learns of her husband’s deception and demise, but where Dutch is obsessed with learning the truth about his wife’s affair, Chandler wants to avoid exposure to the details. Her excuses involve both protecting her fifteen year old daughter from the truth and the potential political costs of a scandal, but down deep Chandler is in denial about the tepid failure of her marriage.
Dutch, on the other hand, is an investigator by trade. "I get paid to know who’s lying," he says bitterly, "I didn’t have a clue." His power is in knowing, and while his grief over the loss of his loved wife is genuine, her betrayal of his trust threatens him at the seat of his power. He has been taken by surprise and he didn’t know; now he needs to know every detail to regain his power and get past his loss. At the same time, in his work, Dutch knows what is going on with his crooked colleague, but he can’t pin him down with good evidence. Information alone can’t solve his dilemma. Worse yet, his wife’s betrayal and his threatened power leave him untrusting – unfairly suspicious even of his own partner – and into unprofessional responses on the job.
Pollack and screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan (Cinderella Liberty, The Last Detail) explore these issues of knowing and not knowing, information and misinformation, trust and distrust in the contexts of the marital and family relationships, politics, and police work, as well as in the slowly developing romantic relationship between the two leads. The multiple elements, united by the common themes, are interwoven seamlessly as the plot moves forward, importantly assisted by the impeccable editing of long term Pollack cohort William Steinkamp, the stylish camerawork of Philippe Rousselot (Hope and Glory, A River Runs Through it), and the bluesy jazz score by David Grusin.
Pollack’s strong hand shows constantly in the details, too. When Dutch, investigating his wife’s affair, examines a room in the posh Miami hotel where she had her rendezvous, the camera lingers over the details of paired robes, slippers, a jacuzzi: it’s a love nest and the audience’s imagination works in tandem with Dutch’s, filling in the details of what happened there, suggested by the images. It is a more telling moment, having been left to the imagination, than any graphic depiction would have been. When Dutch and Kay go to a hot tango club their spouses had visited, the sensuality of the music and dancers bother her; here’s the heat that was missing from her marriage – and her husband found it with someone else.
Ford plays most of his role in a low-keyed manner, his grief contained, his neediness lingering under the surface. He erupts with the required anger and violence of the police scenes. Thomas makes a convincing politician and the script gives her an unusually high ration of fresh and interesting lines which she delivers with authority. The chemistry between them may be less than one would have hoped for classic screen romance, but the situation in which the characters are placed – newly betrayed, newly grieved – might have made the classic seem facile. Some awkwardness, some miscommunication between them as they grope their way back to trust and loving is more consistent with the thoughtful complexities of the film.