About 75 percent of "Message In a Bottle" is waiting for theother shoe to drop.
Robin Wright Penn plays a Chicago Tribune researcher whobecomes fixated on finding the author of a grief-filled love letter setadrift at sea. By the time she meets him, the letter has done a numberon her heart and she falls in love quickly with the achingly widowed, middle-agedsalt, played by a Kevin Costner, and spends most of the movie trying tofind the right moment to say "Hey, I read that letter to your deadwife that no one was ever supposed to see."
For me it was hard to overlook the fact that, from a journalismethics point of view, she should have told him right off the bat sinceher trip to his North Carolina fishing town was, in part, job-related --after finding the letter on the beach, she gushes over it at the officeand it finds it way into print, spawning a huge response from the lonelyhearts crowd.
But this incessant anticipation, which must inevitablylead to Costner hitting the roof when he discovers his correspondence inher dresser drawer, is forgivable when upstaged by a powerful cast.
Penn gives a extraordinarily natural performance. Honest,compelling and fervent, even her breathing changes subtly when she is overcomeby emotions she did not anticipate. She understatedly carries the movieand I can't think of any other actress who would have been better for thepart.
Costner is in the kind of role that brings out the bestin him, as a hesitant and heartbroken husband content to spend his dayspining for his dead wife, until he meets Penn and isn't at all sure whatto do with his sentiments. His deliberate restraint and serious-but-winsomeromanticism is as engaging here as it is in all his most memorable roles,like "Field of Dreams" or "Bull Durham."
And as the comic relief and voice of experience, Paul Newmanis perfectly cast as Costner's father, a charmingly grouchy, reformed drunk.He would be an Best Supporting Actor shoo-in had this movie been releasedtwo months ago.
Based on a 1998 best seller by Nicholas Sparks, "MessageIn a Bottle" is an adult romantic drama about coming to terms withlove and loss, and finding one's peace with the world. Gently manipulativeand beautifully structured, director Luis Mandoki ("When a Man Lovesa Woman") manages to avoid succumbing entirely to the chick flickundertow, even in Lilith Faire love scenes with moonlit close-ups of kissesand hands on golden skin.
He keeps the galloping metaphors fairly bridled, as well.Costner, who restores boats for a living, sails to clear his head and aftermeeting Penn begins working on a custom boat he'd abandon after his wifedied.
Thanks to Mandoki's balance, none of this emotional machinationinspires the kind of eye-rolling witnessed in recent, pointed tear-jerkerslike "Stepmom" and "Patch Adams," even when he does doubles up on the hankie-wringingfor a last reel of emotional spiraling.
Uncharacteristic contrivances, such as our heroine's excruciatinglyslow recognition of Costner's obvious emotional baggage, and a severalflagrant journalistic credibility problems dog "Message In a Bottle."But ultimately Mandoki's transporting direction, Caleb Deschanel's fluidseacoast cinematography and the stars' sensitive molding of their hesitantlovers preempt the film's problems and give "Message" a movingcurrent that sweeps the audience along even as we take note of its imperfections.
In Theaters: Friday 12th February 1999
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Bel Air Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 26
IMDB: 6.1 / 10
Director: Luis Mandoki
Also starring: Robin Wright Penn
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