Vault: 'A Perfect World' (1993) Dir. Clint Eastwood
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
A strong period piece by Clint Eastwood which brings Oscar-winning talent together for an example of heart-warming but hard-hitting drama...
1963. Convicts Robert “Butch” Haynes (Costner) escapes a state penitentiary and aims for the Texan border. On stumbling across a devout Jehovah’s Witness family, Butch kidnaps 8 year old Phillip (Lowther).
Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Eastwood) is called to locate Butch and rescue Phillip. He is accompanied by criminologist Sally (Dern). Butch takes on the role as a protective father figure and the two form a close, inseparable bond.
But as the law draws closer, Butch and Phillip face the fateful consequences of their actions when their safety rests at the end of a loaded gun and the desperate attempt of a peaceful negotiation by Garnett…
I openly love everything about this film. The acting is perfection, with Kevin Costner at the top of his game as Butch, the prisoner you at times forget he is a wanted man capable of murder due to his warmth, affection and protective side that draws you in as much as young Phillip. And TJ Lowther as young Phillip gives this film the heart and soul, and without him it wouldn’t work. Never before has a child star moved me more than Lowther in his scenes, from conveying his fear, excitement, sadness and happiness.
Costner and Lowther make a duo that moves me more than any other I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s raw and real, and it’s not sugar coated from the start. Eastwood directs them both to form a relationship they both need, but one that gradually develops from their first meeting until the time they part ways. It’s this development that ties the emotional strength of the plot together.
Our two leads are the backbone of this story, with equal amounts of heart and humour to make them worth investing in for the journey.
Clint Eastwood, Laura Dern, Wayne Dehart and Bradley Whitford all give strong support to these two and their characters each add to the over-all relationship and tone of the film. It’s a manhunt, but one fueled with trying to understand the motives behind what Butch is doing and ensuring Phillip’s safety. With limited screen time for Eastwood as the dedicated Texas Ranger out to find them, that ever present law enforcer is always there to remind you of what is happening away from Butch.
Due to minimal screen time, this lets Eastwood direct his best ever film with more time behind the lens spent capturing the vibe of 60s America, through picturesque countryside’s and small towns. The music, the cars, the fashion – it’s all there and adds to the authenticity of the era. And it also gives him time to focus on the story between Butch and Phillip.
It works because as you are the 3rd party along for the ride, you find yourself rooting for them to steal the car from the cantankerous farmer, or shopping together for supplies, and even young Phillip shoplifting a Casper Halloween outfit he so dearly wants as Butch keeps local police at bay with the might of his car and pistol. These moments are wonderful to see, adding to their trust and understanding of each other which you feel more and more at ease being a part of.
But Eastwood knows what he is doing, and it pays off during the final half an hour when the “perfect world” comes crashing to a stark, violent reality. It’s shocking to see Butch resort to his persona of a capable killer and criminal, but then that’s what he has been all the while. We’ve just chosen to ignore it thanks to Eastwoods direction and to see the perfect side to him. We experience this through Phillip’s eyes, seeing the father figure he loves show a scary, evil side that reduces him to tears.
It’s from this point the core of the story comes into play, as all the characters come together to negotiate their way out of a situation that will not end well, unless everyone can lower their ego, morals and weapons.
The final frames are heart-breaking, and reduce me to tears every time I watch this due to the power of Eastwood’s tense, sharp directing and editing of the stand-off. The soundtrack grips your heart as it swells with the powerful images on screen; never before has the power of humanity shone through like it does through Butch and Phillip in these moments, and the outcome is stronger because of it.
And special mention to the unique composition 'Big Fran's Baby' by Clint Eastwood and Lennie Niehaus just for this film. It evokes emotion on both scales used perfectly in this film during the pivotal final scenes - a haunting and masterful piece of music.
It’s a film criminally unknown to many, but one that deserves the critical praise for the acting and directing achievements it displays.
'A Perfect World' is a Malpaso Productions film