WinStar // 1997 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // May 19th, 2000
Quiet. Blessed, blessed, blessed quiet.
From Oscar winning screenwriter Horton Foote (The Trip to Bountiful, Tender Mercies, To Kill a Mockingbird), comes the story of John Webb (Hume Cronyn), a farmer in the twilight of his years. Still reeling from the death of his wife of 52 years, Webb is also trying to keep his head above water with his finances. Having to take out a loan from the bank to pay for taxes, he wonders how many seasons as a farmer he has left in him.
His daughters long married and moved away, Webb's last remaining friend, Grey (James Earl Jones), is getting ready to move to Houston to live with one of his children. Webb's only remaining family are his nephews Gus, Jr. (Chris Cooper) and Carl (Frederic Forrest) and their families. Family that has very little time for their "rich" Uncle John.
This all changes when an oil company comes asking around for the right to drill on John Webb's land. With Gus and Carl still owning half of the mineral rights of the land from when their father owned part of John's farm, the promise of big oil money starts tongues a wagging. With the prospect of easy cash on the horizon, greed rears its ugly face causing friends and family members to bicker and fight.
With Alone, Foote is aiming at a lot of targets. The death of the American farm. Aging and outliving friends and loved ones. The point when the parent becomes the child and needs to be cared for and looked after. Greed, jealously and the way corporate America tries to manipulate the average citizen, all in the name of profit and wealth. All worthy topics and subject matter Foote tries to explore as best he can.
I have a lot of respect for Horton Foote. I cannot think of anyone out in the landscape of popular media who deals so consistently with "real" America and its people. A writer who is not content with flash and image, Foote gets into the hearts and heads of hard working, imperfect people. When in full stride, Foote is a writer with his hand on the pulse of our nation. Here he nicely shows just how quickly our nation has changed. When once, not so long ago, a farm could not only help feed a nation, it could also provide shelter and a home for those who worked it. Now the open spaces are empty and alone, being nothing more than a huge financial burden.
Powerful material with loads of dramatic potential.
Alone features some wonderful performances by old pros Cronyn (Marvin's Room, The Pelican Brief, Cocoon), Jones (Clear and Present Danger, The Lion King, Field Of Dreams) and one not so old pro, Cooper (American Beauty, October Sky, Lone Star). It also boasts some sturdy direction from Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who conducts the proceedings in a quiet, strong manner. As a director he seems to understand the tone of the piece and maintains respect and dignity for the characters.
Originally presented on the Showtime cable network, Alone is brought to DVD by WinStar. The film was shot in the 1.33:1, so the way the picture fills up the screen is an accurate depiction of how the film was shot. As a transfer, the image is passable. Colors and fleshtones are accurate and natural looking. I could detect the barest amount of edge enhancement but it was nothing that was really distracting. Nighttime sequences are solid with blacks and shadow showing acceptable detail and clarity. The only real problem I had with the image was it seemed the print was in less than perfect shape. Nothing too annoying, but there were scratches and dirt present throughout the film.
Sound is also effective in what it does. In the Dolby 2 channel mix dialogue is clear with almost everything coming out of the center speaker. With no special effects the soundtrack does what it needs to do, although to be honest, it sometimes sounded rather flat and dull.
Alone is not Horton Foote at his best. In his most successful projects Foote has had a riveting performance from his lead performer to push his words forward. While Cronyn is wonderful, he does not posses the magnetism actors such as Robert Duvall did in Tender Mercies or Gregory Peck had in To Kill a Mockingbird. Cronyn's character is a quiet, humble man and his performance is just that. Also it does not help when so much of what Foote is writing about here seems so forced, almost trite. I never found myself caring for anyone in the film or their plight. Simple people, yes. But the writing came off that way as well.
For as good as Cronyn, Jones and Cooper are, Frederic Forrest (The Two Jakes, Hammett, Apocalypse Now) and Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Roxanne, Time Bandits), as Forrest's wife, are just plain bad. Their performances are so clichéd and broad that I found myself embarrassed whenever they were onscreen.
I almost always cringe when I see the WinStar, formerly Fox Lorber, company name on a DVD case. I know that I will be getting average picture and sound with no extras. With the release of Alone, none of that has changed. I would be just as well renting the VHS of this movie. Not even the most basic things such as subtitles or an alternate language track are present. Is it really that hard to do something, anything, even in the least way special for a film?
While there are some nice performances and the occasional turn of phrase that causes one to pause, there really is not much here to recommend. I suppose if you are a fan of the author or of some of the actors it would make a decent rental but otherwise there is little else present to write home about.
Horton Foote is given a warning and released because of past efforts but WinStar is ordered to serve 5 to 10 for average, barebone releases. That is all I have. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated