10 March 2009 | moonspinner55
"An attraction for obliteration..."
Magazine editor Hal Holbrook, husband to a manic depressive and father to three kids who ignore him, contemplates killing himself with a rifle after first eliminating each member of his family. Technically adept, solidly performed drama is decidedly grim, occasionally insufferable, but undeniably potent--and surprisingly relevant to the times. Director Jeff Kanew, who also adapted Julius Horwitz's novel, goes out on a limb with this non-commercial material, yet he makes a few missteps in the process. With the firm conclusion that "all married men have this fantasy", Kanew seems to think that familial obliteration is an all-encompassing issue--an epidemic among dissatisfied husbands and middle-aged fathers--without any facts to back this up. Kanew's decision to have the man's wife suddenly come out of her fog and attempt to reach her husband with intelligent conversation doesn't quite work; most viewers won't be able to connect with him, either--he's like the evil villain on a soap opera--all of which causes Kanew's ending to seem like a cop-out (especially the way it's presented). Louise Fletcher gets some good speeches as the Mrs., and her forthright plea for mutual understanding is commendable, but Kanew doesn't allow her to be strong, and the three children (who have no lines, nor personalities) appear to be equally lethargic and dim. Hal Holbrook's lead performance is unvarying in its grimness and, while he's a superlative actor, one tends to recoil from scenes of him sexing it up at a brothel (or, even more excruciating, chit-chatting with the naked prostitutes in bed about his ground-up life). Many interesting points are made in the midst of a dramatic muddle, and yet the coldness inherent in the handling comes off as abject indifference. **1/2 from ****