Academy Award winners* Kevin Costner and Clint Eastwood confront each other from opposite sides of the law in A Perfect World, an acclaimed, multilayered manhunt saga (directed by Eastwood) that rumbles down Texas backroads toward a harrowing collision with fate.
Costner plays Butch Haynes, a hardened prison escapee on the lam with a young hostage (T.J. Lowther in a remarkable film debut) who sees in Butch the father figure he never had. Eastwood is wily Texas Ranger Red Garnett, leading deputies and a criminologist (Laura Dern) on a statewide pursuit. Red knows every road and pothole in the Panhandle. What's more, he knows the elusive Haynes – because their paths have crossed before.
Being a logical and analytical thinker, I'm usually pretty good at watching films, breaking them down, and piecing together all of the underlying clues and themes; however, 'A Perfect World' is one those films that I simply do not get. I understand everything that's going on within the story, I understand the character dynamics and symbolism – but I am absolutely clueless as to what it is trying to say overall. What is its purpose? Why are we shown everything that we see?
Two stories run concurrently throughout 'A Perfect World.' The first, which is the main story, is that of Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) – a man with a shady past who is being hunted by a team of Texas Rangers. After escaping prison, Butch and a fellow escaped inmate take a young boy hostage and hit the road. When the fatherless hostage kid Phillip joins them, Butch takes Phillip under his wing and treats him like a son. In essence, Butch acts like the father that he wanted, but never had. Phillip, in return, takes Butch on as the father that he has never known. Together, the two race around the state, evading police and stealing.
The second story is that of Texas Ranger Red Garnett (director Clint Eastwood) and his small team of Rangers. This is where the story gets odd. Red is supposed to exemplify justice, but he's a lazy old geezer who puts in the minimal amount of effort. A major part of this story line involves a female criminologist (Laura Dern) being assigned to work with them. Herein lies a heavy commentary on the sexism of the past. Being an old man set in his ways, Red has a problem with change and taking orders. He constantly disrespects Dern's character as well as his higher-ups. When the governor asks Red to take photos in front of his new silver twinkie-like camper that will double as his official headquarters, Red steals it for the investigation. Quirky things ensue that do not match the tone of Butch's story, including the camper disconnecting from the truck pulling it in a sequence that mirrors the animated Disney short with Goofy driving a runaway camper down the mountain. Honestly, this cartoonish sequence is a joke that's not worth laughing at. Silly little sequences like this take place throughout the movie, as if Eastwood said, "This movie stars a little kid, so we better put some childish content in it."
It's beyond me how 'A Perfect World' got away with a PG-13 rating. The tone and story of this movie is much too dark, depressing, and grim for younger audiences..
One of the messages that 'A Perfect World' tries to convey is about parenting. Butch either commends or punishes the father's that he meets during this journey. A good father receives praise and is left alone unscathed. A bad father is beaten in front of his family, tied up (along with his wife and kid) and forced to stare down the barrel of a .38 special before eating lead – all while Phillip watches. We suspect it all along, but it is left until the climax to reveal just how crazy Butch might be. What the movie is trying to say about parenting, I don't know. The way that it ends, it seems like a hopeless "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation - which doesn't really fit in anywhere else in the film.
How the Butch story affects that of Red is also an aspect that I simply do not understand. Red's story concludes with him being reinforced as a great and noble Ranger, yet nothing that we've seen him do paints him as a model Ranger. His ending mirrors the vibe of Tommy Lee Jones' character at the close of 'No Country For Old Men.' If both movies were going for the same thought-provoking social commentary ending, 'A Perfect World' is by far the lesser of the two.
For me, 'A Perfect World' is just another Clint Eastwood fizzler, a shoot and a miss. It's incoherent, inconsistent, unfocused, and purposeless. Only one out of every four Eastwood movies is worth seeing; 'A Perfect World' is not one of them.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has placed 'A Perfect World' on a region-free BD-50 in an eco-friendly blue keepcase. Once again, Warners has authored the menu with generic buttons that carry the same look of an ugly homemade DVD menu. During playback, no trailers run before the main menu, but skippable FBI warnings, firmware disclaimers and studio vanity reels do.
Considering the two Warner Bros. titles' Blu-rays were released on the same day, I expected 'A Perfect Mind' to feature the same good three-and-a-half-star video quality of 'U.S. Marshals,' but it's not. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of 'A Perfect World' is just as clean and clear, but not as sharp.
'A Perfect World' jumps around from softly to sharply detailed shots just like 'U.S. Marshals,' only there are many more examples of detail-less shots in 'A Perfect World.' Those that are detailed are quite impressive, revealing the fine textured surfaces of brightly lit objects - such as individual blades of grass beneath the warm summer sun, beads of sweat that appear on Butch's forehead and thin blonde hairs that extend beyond his hairline. Poor shadow delineation and inconsistent contrast assist in the removal of these details for the majority of the film. Shadows are not friendly to this transfer, bulldozing details entirely. Black levels bounce around from decent darkness to mild forms of gray. There seems to be no reason behind these inconsistencies, as you will notice the fluctuations taking place in different shots of the exact same scene.
Several night scenes feature bright lighting in the foreground that causes an eye-catching haloing disturbance. The most noticeable of these examples is the scene where Butch's cohort tries raping Phillip's mother. During this same scene, the highly-saturated red colors of Butch's plaid jacket bleed out into the surrounding blacks.
The only compression error to make its way onto the Blu-ray is a very minor instance of aliasing in the grill of the first Chevy that Butch steals. Noise, artifacts and bands are completely absent. DNR is not applied, but a few occasions reveal edge enhancement.
Talk about an underwhelming lossless audio track. This 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is so strangely mixed that I don't know what to think of it.
Aside from one scene, which we'll get to, there is only one thing that ever fills the surround and rear channels. No, it's not music. Guess again. Being set during summer in Texas, it's the environmental sounds of bugs and wind. The majority of the movie takes place in the middle of farmlands, so it's a great natural sound to constantly feature – but had more effects been programmed to those channels, a dynamic feel could have existed throughout the film. There is only one instance where effects are spread throughout the theater – when Butch and Phillip are awoken in the middle of the night by a huge piece of farm equipment passing by their crop-hidden car. The only reason this scene is mixed in such a way is to startle the audience just like the characters. Aside from that, nearly all of the other effects are focused in the front, giving it an extremely flat feel no matter how high you have the volume. Hovering helicopters only emit effects from the front. The sounds of cars crashing into barns and trees a centrally located.
In recent years, Eastwood has written his own scoring, but here he hired composer Lennie Niehas. The uncomfortable and uneasy disturbing tone comes from the use of silence, not score. If my tally is correct, there are only three scenes in the whole movie that feature original score and just a few others with appropriate music of the time in which it's set (the '60s). During those rare occasions that scoring is used, good use is made of all channels.
All in all, much more could be done to make this an impressive audio track.
I have a love-hate relationship with Clint Eastwood's films. Each time I see one, I honestly go into it expecting to love it. His trailers always make his work look so impressive and engaging, yet 75 percent of the movies he produces tend to be discombobulated, unfocused and, ultimately, let-downs. The same goes for 'A Perfect World.' The idea at hand is a good one, but nothing comes together in the end and the tonal differences only confused me. Between the mediocre story/writing/filmmaking, the mild video transfer and audio mix and the sheer absence of special features, this is a Blu-ray made just for die-hard fans of Clint Eastwood's directorial work. In a perfect world, we'd all love this film – but the one thing I learned for this movie is that this isn't a perfect world, is it?