Untamed Heart

Untamed Heart (1993)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Christian Slater, Marisa Tomei, Rosie Perez
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

1993 seemed to be a year in which romance flourished, full-force, on the big screen. With sweeping, epic love stories like Vincent Ward’s "Map of the Human Heart," Martin Scorsese’s "The Age of Innocence" and James Ivory’s "The Remains of the Day," Tony Bill’s "Untamed Heart" was right at home and in very good company. Unlike the aforementioned, however, "Untamed Heart" is a small film, a personal film – with an equally profound message.

In a simple yet eternal tale of pre-destined love and fate’s sometimes cruel hand in it, "Untamed Heart" shares a poetic yet painful lesson in matters of the heart. Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater deliver stellar performances as star-crossed lovers whose paths do finally, albeit fleetingly, intersect.

Caroline (Marisa Tomei) is a young waitress who has better luck making fresh diner coffee than she does at affairs of the heart. Adam (Christian Slater) is an apparently mute busboy whose still waters – and feelings for Caroline – run much deeper than anyone knew. In Caroline’s words, "He doesn’t make sense, I don’t make sense… together we make sense." The film tells the bittersweet tale of their love and, ultimately, their loss.

From the beginning of the film, the viewer is plunged into the life of Caroline. Within minutes, she is virtually slapped in the face by her boyfriend unexpectedly breaking up with her. The honesty in her sighs, in her internal tug-of-war of not wanting him to hold her and yet feeling compelled to plead with him, we know that she is a victim of bad timing – and bad taste – in men. Welcome to Caroline’s world. Tomei’s open countenance and ability to be so emotionally accessible to the audience is evident from the get-go and allows the viewer to feel close to her, to know her more intimately.

Because of the character’s self-inflicted silences and withdrawal, Slater delivers a subdued, minimalist performance, absent of the Jack Nicholson mannerisms to which audiences are accustomed. His expression relied more heavily on body language and facial expression, not something normally affiliated with Slater. The result may be the best performance, thus far, in Slater’s career.

The supporting cast includes the likes of Kyle Secor ("Homicide: Life on the Streets") and more prominently, Rosie Perez ("Night on Earth"). For every ounce of tension and despair Howard (Secor) contributes to the lives of Caroline and Adam, Cindy (Perez) delivers that much levity and vitality. She is Caroline’s best gal pal/confidant and has seen her through one lamentable relationship after another. Ironic that the final heartache that we see her help Caroline through brings the term ’heartache’ to a much more poignant level.

The attention to detail in "Untamed Heart" is wonderful and authentic – everything from Cindy’s dimestore boutique plastic hoop earrings to Adam’s solar system mobile (which nicely yet subtly accentuates his love for the stars and planets) to Caroline’s lighter-softened eye-liner (a technique every teenage girl remembers). These nuances draw the viewer in with ease, making for a personable, tender film. For every item that may date "Untamed Heart" – such as Cindy’s sprayed ’n teased tendrils, crush velvet hats or dancing around to "Bad Bad Boys" (does anyone even remember Midi, Maxi & Efti?) – there are just as many elements that make this a timeless classic: romantic talks on the front porch swing, oldies on the diner jukebox, chivalrous gestures for a lady in distress – the end result is a film that can’t quite be placed, an ageless, classic story.

Another important detail of the film is the music, both in song choices and Cliff Eidelman’s sadly beautiful score. Nat King Cole’s "Nature Boy" was the perfect song to personify the film – melancholy, fable-esque, worthy of tears by the film’s end. Cowboy Junkies hauntingly exquisite rendition of the classic "Blue Moon" adds a fine touch to the nostalgic character of the film. Caroline and Adam’s slow dance in the diner to James Brown’s "Try Me" is a warm and intimate moment, seemingly frozen in time.

"Untamed Heart" is coming in its original 1.85:1 theatrical <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD from MGM Home Entertainment in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. There was some minor artifacting evident in several scenes but not so much that it interfered with enjoyment of the film. <$pixelation,Pixelation> was even less evident, but still present. Its minimal distraction factor is probably due (at least in part) to the diffused lighting and lens filtration used in the film. "Untamed Heart" has a soft, romantic light to it, enhancing the fairy tale nature of the story.

As would be expected in such a modest film of this type, the sound is <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0. However, because the film is low-tech in its theme and presentation, 5.1 Surround is not sorely missed because it is unnecessary.

Other than the theatrical trailer, there are no viewable extras to enjoy. This is particularly regretful since there is such priceless little data out there regarding the film. A commentary or ’behind the scenes’ featurette would have been greatly appreciated.

If "Untamed Heart" proved anything to the world, it proved that sometimes a little voice can be heard across target marketing guidelines and projected ticket sales; it appealed to MTV generations and baby-boomers alike. It also proved that Tomei was more than her jumped-up "My Cousin Vinny" character and that Slater was more than the teen angst of "Pump Up the Volume." This film is a sincere, beautiful film, revealing a world at once both gentle and violent. "Untamed Heart" is a smooth, eternal blend of generational icons and values, lifting it far above its genre peers of the time and ensuring it a place in modern film history.