Random Hearts

Random Hearts (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles S. Dutton, Bonnie Hunt, Dennis Haysbert
Extras: HBO Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Isolated Music Score, Theatrical Trailers, Talent Files

Providing sparkling <$16x9, anamorphic> <$PS, widescreen> transfers, crisp digital audio and, usually, an abundance of supplemental materials that represent a virtual master class in filmmaking, Columbia TriStar Home Video consistently and steadfastly does the DVD format proud with practically all their titles. The latest to benefit from Columbia TriStar Home Video’s meticulous eye and ear is Sydney Pollack’s polished romantic drama "Random Hearts."

Harrison Ford stars at William "Dutch" Van Den Broeck, a DC cop who seemingly has it all: a big house, a badge and a wonderful marriage with his wife, Payton. When she leaves a telephone message that she is flying to Miami for business, he thinks nothing of it… until he hears of the crash of a DC-based jet bound for Miami. Initially, she does not appear to be aboard the fateful plane. Then, using his detective skills, he uncloaks a devastating secret: Payton was travelling with another man under an assumed name. Dutch’s odyssey propels him into the orbit of Kay Chandler, a New Hampshire Congresswoman running for re-election and the "other man’s" wife. Slowly, the two wounded spouses assemble the puzzle of circumstances that brought them together. Attempting to comprehend their grief and anger, they slowly realize that something other than sorrow motivates their quest.

Much credit goes to director Sydney Pollack, writer Kurt Luedtke (adapting from Warren Adler’s novel) and all involved with this production in imbuing the film with a decidedly adult scope. Seeing two grown-ups engage in physical passion refreshingly departs from the scads of Gen X comedies or teen sex romps littering the multiplexes, with immature horny males continually scheming in their eternal mission to dispatch detumescence (Thank you Aldous Huxley!). Dutch and Kay’s pain is palpable, even in the throes of desire, and we share their journey as they learn the true fate of their loved ones…as well as question their own conceptions of marriage and happiness.

The sub-plots deftly draw parallels with what happens to them professionally, as well as personally. Dutch becomes embroiled in a potentially life-threatening Internal Affairs investigation of a corrupt officer and Kay finds herself having to make some tough moral choices during her re-election bid. Slowly, as they fall apart and reconstruct themselves, inner and outer conflicts converge until they face a heart-wrenching decision.

The personal issue I have with "Random Hearts" is that the two leads, unfortunately, share no chemistry. Sparks rarely fly with Ford’s laconic delivery and Scott’s cool demeanor. Watching them during the passionate passages is akin to throwing green wood into a fire, resulting in a dreary smolder. The film is at its best when they face their moments of pain individually, not together. When Dutch goes to Payton’s work upon learning of the crash, he finds his first real evidence that something is amiss. The scene of Ford dazed amongst the Saks Fifth Avenue displays, facing his wife’s co-workers as a possible cuckold, has a real sense of hurt. When Kay’s daughter, Jessica, realizes her father is a cheat, we empathize with her terror of reality. In the ensuing confrontation between Kay and Jessica, Scott’s very subtle insinuation of Kay’s conflict over whether or not she is at a better place (because of her involvement with Dutch) gives the scene undeniable tragic weight.

The 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer is simply gorgeous. Fleshtones are completely natural and the source is blemish-free. Aside from the soft-focus scenes, detail is extremely vivid and black levels are deep, bringing out full hues and contrast. The transfer is so "film-like," there are moments you cannot believe you are watching video, Digital or compression artifacts are nowhere to be found. From gritty DC streets to a passion-filled Miami tango palace to the serenity of Chesapeake Bay, the transfer captures every gradient and nuance of color faithfully, solidly and assuredly.

The disc offers a 5.0 <$DD,Dolby Digital> sound mix, as well as a 2-channel <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. Despite the absence of the ".1" in 5.1, there is a richness to the audio. The sound mix also serves Dave Grusin’s slow, evocative music score, which the DVD spotlights independently via an isolated music track. The surrounds engage infrequently, but potently (the bustling sounds of the airport, a nightclub scene or helicopters buzzing around the crash site.) Dialogue is clear and very well integrated into the track, not at all sounding forced or ADR-recorded. The 5.0 audio track demonstrates good spatial delineation. Smooth panning sounds and well-defined discrete audio effects create a coherent, but not gimmicky, soundfield.

Packed among the plethora of goodies on this DVD are a running commentary by director Pollack, a behind the scenes documentary entitled "HBO First Look — The Making of ’Random Hearts,’" three deleted scenes, Dave Grusin’s scintillating score on a separate track, five theatrical trailers and cast & crew bios ("Talent Files.")

The insightful <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Sydney Pollack runs the length of the film. I am always fascinated when directors shed light on their metier, often professing that the process of making a motion picture is part alchemy, part serendipity and part lunacy. A director seemingly makes a million decisions while making a film. Pollack discusses various aspects of the film, describing his choices calmly, sounding like a man deciding what socks to wear rather than helming a multi-million dollar production. His commentary illuminates without tipping too much of the magician’s art. At one point, Pollack strikingly describes the slow unfolding of the plane crash to the characters (and the audience) as "the onion being peeled." Whether explaining the dilemma of how suspicious should Payton play her scenes with Dutch or debating out-loud how leaving in the underwater footage of the crash victims invests the audience with a greater emotional stake in the characters’ dilemma, Pollack practically leaves no production stone unturned.

Designed more to promote than to enlighten, the documentary "HBO First Look: The Making of Random Hearts" takes a 23-minute look at the creation of the film. Generous helpings of behind the scenes footage, interspersed with soundbites by Pollack, Ford, and Thomas, delineate an almost shot for shot "discussion" of the movie, telescoping the entire plot very much like the 20-minute Super 8 digest reels of days past. Instead of having lighting-fast editing substitute for energy, we get the stars talking through their characters’ motivations, as well as give "inside" dope about the enrichments and vicissitudes about filmmaking in general and this film in particular.

Three deleted scenes with commentary by Pollack are present on the disc. They are work-print quality, with questionable color balance and rife with compression artifacts. Existing primarily to illustrate editing decisions, I suppose they do not need to be hue-perfect and in 5.1 surround. Again, Pollack coolly narrates each scene, explaining why they were filmed and what prompted their excision. The ditched snippets potently demonstrate how part of being a good filmmaker is having the perspicacity to omit as well as the tenacity to include.

The five theatrical trailers represent a kind of "mini-retrospective" of the careers of Sydney Pollack and Harrison Ford, at least within the realm of Columbia Pictures. First, "Random Hearts" theatrical trailer is presented in 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and Dolby Digital 5.1. Then, categorized according to the respective artists, there are trailers for "The Way We Were" (heralding "Redford and Streisand Together!" and featuring a momentary glimpse of a very young James Woods), "Absence of Malice," "The Devil’s Own," and "Air Force One." With the exception of "Absence of Malice," all the trailers are <$PS,widescreen> and the Ford trailers are in Dolby Digital 5.1.
The talent files contain run-of-the-mill selected factoids and cursory filmographies on Sydney Pollack, Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles S. Dutton, and Bonnie Hunt.

As a movie, "Random Hearts" proudly wears its melodramatic emotions on the proverbial, albeit celluloid, "sleeve." Despite my caveats, "Hearts" has a thoroughly adult sensibility greatly appreciated by your humble reviewer. The DVD, guided by a sure technical hand and possessed with an obvious love of the format, reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of this earnest, but flawed, "Heart."