Starring Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Patrick, Ray Stevenson, Frances O’Connor and Katherine LaNasa
Directed by Billy Bob Thornton
From the opening shot I already felt like Jayne Mansfield’s Car was a miscalculation. The mustard colour scheme, the slow motion, the deep bass-based soundtrack, like a movie taking itself too seriously. After this introduction of an idyllic small town in scorching Alabama, we see three different brothers. Drug-using Carroll Caldwell (Bacon) is a ringleader of a conspicuous anti-war rally and is arrested. Jimbo (Patrick) and his wife encourage their son to join the army when he turns seventeen. The meek and dysfunctional Skip (Thornton) is told to turn his underground music down. All of them are under the thumb of their father Jim (Duvall), reprimanding them about something or other. He also is fascinated with car crashes which happen on a daily occurrence in his county.
But that might change when they learn about their estranged mother’s death, her body being brought back from England by her second husband (Hurt) and his children Philip (Stevenson) and Camilla (O’Connor). And there’s flirtation between children, between Skip and Camilla and between Philip and Jim’s daughter Donna (LaNasa). These two new couples worry me, having to prove to myself that these overgrown children aren’t related by blood.
Most of the performances feel off, especially Duvall who seems to just cruise through his lines. We don’t feel the fear or indifference that he’s supposed to be inflicting on his children. The movie’s best players are Stevenson and O’Connor, present on roles that I’m not used to seeing them taking. We’ve seen Stevenson, a dashing English gentleman here, as a robust swordsman in The Three Musketeers. O’Connor, however, has been in The Hunter as a single mother who can’t be more different from her groovy role here. But their characterizations are just costumes or types as opposed to fully fleshed-out characters. There’s a scene involving Skip and Jim which shocks but doesn’t let us sympathize with either character, and I can say the same about the rest of this forgettable movie.