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Costner is perfect as criminal and protector

A Perfect World
Directed by Clint Eastwood.
T. Lowler, and Clint Eastwood.
Screenplay by John Lee Hancock.
Loews Cheri.

By Patrick Mahoney
Staff Reporter

Kids. Audiences always seem to love kids in the movies. It's true that anyone who has a soft spot for kids is given a lot of "nice guy" credibility, even if he is an escaped convict who just killed his partner. A Perfect World, the new movie directed by Clint Eastwood, plays on that sentiment. Kevin Costner plays Butch Haynes, a convict who was in a Texas state prison for armed robbery. T. J. Lowler plays a 7-year-old Jehovah's Witness name Phillip whom Haynes takes hostage after escaping from prison.

On the whole I call this movie a winner. Costner is convincing as a cunning con who cares about kids. Throughout, we see him defend Phillip, up to the point where he kills his escape partner because he threatens Phillip. Costner does an excellent job of portraying the "vigilante" child protector who becomes enraged when little kids are hurt. Costner's portrayal of Haynes not as a hardened criminal, but as one who only steals when he needs something, is perfectly delivered, making him even more acceptable to the audience.

Lowler too plays his role to near perfection. He acts just like an 7-year-old should. His role doesn't have him acting like a 20-year-old in an child's body. Writer John Lee Hancock captures perfectly an innocent and understated youth. Lowler's amiable attitude lends an air of lightness to the serious side of the film.

On the other hand, Eastwood -- who plays the Texas police officer leading the manhunt for Costner -- is a waste. He doesn't need to be in the movie. His plot is not developed, he isn't funny, and he doesn't add anything significant to the film. It is unclear what Hancock wanted Eastwood to provide to the movie, but if he was expecting a clever, enthusiastic state trooper similar to the federal marshall played by Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, he fails. Eastwood's role is simply uninspiring.

The Eastwood side plot adds very little to the movie, and serves only to make it longer. At 130 very long minutes that is exactly what the movie doesn't need. It is a slow-paced film which focuses more on character development and human interaction than on the thrill of the chase, and those 130 minutes make it really drag into the finish.

Another thing that bothered me about A Perfect World was the setting. November 1963, shortly before the fateful parade in Dallas where John F. Kennedy was shot. The reason for this setting is unclear: Nothing is ever done with it. I think the movie could just as easily have been set in the present, saving the audience the trouble of wondering what 1963 had to do with this movie.

Perhaps Hancock had some grand idea why it needed to be set in November 1963. It may be that Hancock wants to imply that this immense mobilization of Texas police was the reason for lax security at the parade in Dallas, but that isn't certain. Even if this is the case, I'd have to say that it really has no place in this movie. The movie is about Costner and Lowler, not Eastwood, not Kennedy.

I would recommend seeing the film. It is not the type of movie you get to see everyday. It has a good balance of action, humor, and drama. It isn't too dark, and it isn't too happy. It is rare to see a movie put all these pieces together well, and with the exception of Eastwood, the actors are excellent. Besides, it's about kids, and everyone likes kids