28 November 2011 | Michael_Elliott
Some Good Performances But Extremely Flawed
Harry & Son (1984)
** (out of 4)
Family drama centering on father Harry (Paul Newman), a blue collar construction worker who loses his job due to an unknown illness he's suffering from. Harry has trouble trying to connect to his growing son Howard (Robby Benson) who wants to make it as a writer. The son can't keep a "real" job, which rubs his father the wrong way since he actually wants to work but is unable to. You can tell this was a labor of love for Newman who not only plays the lead but he also directed, produced and co-wrote the screenplay. If you've seen some of Newman's earlier directorial films you'll know that he can create some very touching pictures and there are glimpses of that here but sadly the end result is that HARRY & SON is a complete misfire and without question the low point in Newman's directing career. The biggest problem is without question the screenplay, which is a real mess. I think this movie is supposed to be about a father and son relationship but you'd never know that because not for a second does Harry and Howard come off as some sort of connection. The relationship between the two never really comes off as a father-son thing and another major problem is that neither character really gets a chance to grow. I'd also say that the screenplay really doesn't give us much to go on because we never fully understand their motivations. We never really know why the father is so against his son. There's a subplot with an issue between Harry and his daughter that we never fully understand. There are a wide range of characters who pop up only to either disappear or you never fully get to know who they are. Another major problem with the film is that even though it runs 117-minutes, in the current form, that's way too long as scenes just seem to drag on or the obvious just happens. I'm not sure if this was originally much longer and perhaps some of the character development had to be cut out to get it down to its current length. The one saving grace here and what keeps the film from being a major dud are the performances, which for the most part are very strong. Newman has no trouble playing the troubled blue collar worker but one wishes the screenplay would have given him a stronger character to stick his teeth in. Joanne Woodward is very good in her small supporting role as a love interest. We get other good performances from a likable cast that includes Ellen Barkin, Wilford Brimley, Ossie Davis and Morgan Freeman. The one exception to the good performances is Robby Benson who is pretty bad here. Rumor has it that he actually got this part over Tom Cruise, which is a real shame because I think that actor could have done much more. Benson is really lackluster and his rather bizarre performance makes his character more creepy than anything else. Even worse are his incredibly horrid facial gestures, which quite often make the viewer break out in laughter, which certainly wasn't the intent. HARRY & SON was overlooked when it was released and today it's only of interest to Newman fans who want to see the lower side of his career.