Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: November 24, 1993
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jack N. Green
WRITER: John Lee Hancock
MUSIC: Lennie Niehaus
“A Perfect World” starts off as a simple film about a prison break and a lawman’s pursuit of the criminal. But before long, the criminal takes a kid hostage and the film soon transforms into a deep psychological study of violence and the acts of men that bring about that violence.
Kevin Costner plays Robert “Butch” Haynes, the criminal who escapes from a Huntsville prison along with a fellow inmate. Once they break into a house of devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, they reckon they have no choice but to take the son, Phillip (T.J. Lowther), with them as a hostage. After the other inmate tries to hurt Phillip, Butch soon dispatches the evil man and the kid and the convict begin to form a friendship that is the center of the movie.
Hot on their trail is Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) and criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern). The only other member of note is a cold FBI agent Bobby Lee (Bradley Whitford). They begin their pursuit and along the way, even Red begins to question his own actions.
The film is successful in that it doesn’t just give a “catch me if you can” narrative with a sappy friendship between the convict and the kid. It gets under the skin of the characters in an attempt to find out who they are and to give audiences a deeper understanding of what motivates Butch and the violence he commits. The best example of understanding who he is comes at a moment when he sees a farmer hit his son.
This angers Butch to such a point that Phillip and the audience finally see the source of the violence found within Butch. The audience learns through the course of the film that Butch was abused as a kid and that his mother was a prostitute whose customers did not always treat her nice. The audience sees clearly the message that the movie contains. Had Butch been raised in a loving family, he might have never been so violent.
It definitely takes the side of nurturing as opposed to that of nature. Butch is bad not by default but by those around him. Even Red believes this because he made what may have been an error in judgment years ago in order to get Butch away from his abusive father. While his intentions were good, the mistake leads Butch even further down into darkness.
Costner is without a doubt the star of this movie as he flawlessly gives the audience the good side of Butch in order for them to relate to him. But when the darkness boils to the surface, Costner does not hold back. While many people have different views of Costner today, this is without a doubt one of his best performances.
Eastwood as Red is another interesting character study. Red, not unlike other characters Eastwood has played in the past, is sure of himself and his abilities. He knows who his man is and intends to capture him. However, an interesting thing happens somewhere in the middle of the film. Red begins to doubt his own abilities and his confidence is shaken. By the end of the film, he is questioning whether or not he knows anything at all. It is this unique twist that makes the character one of Eastwood’s deepest and more thought out characters.
This, along with “White Hunter, Black Heart”, is an Eastwood film that has almost been lost in obscurity. It’s a shame that such a good film has been ignored.