Directed by Curtis Hanson
Billie’s charms are believable as a catalyst for change in Huck’s life, but the romantic relationship between the two marks the lowest points in this generally enjoyable and solidly crafted feature. Barrymore feels particularly flat in her role, relying much too heavily on her waning ability to be insatiably adorable. She honestly seems far too mature by now to be stuck playing such a small town square. She’s a gem at expressing optimism, but innocence and naiveté seem incredibly false coming from someone who conveys a “seen it all” attitude with every fiber of her being. It’s Bana and Duvall who really shine here. They perfectly capture a soulful ruggedness that makes their tough guy characters burn with deeper complexities. In one particularly revealing scene, Billie excuses herself to take an irrelevant phone call, leaving Huck and L.C. together to share one of the very best scenes in the film. By the time Barrymore reemerged, I’d forgotten that she was even there in the first place and wondered why she even needed to be.
At its best, the film’s dialogue pops and its characters dazzle, but there are numerous sloppy moments in the mix as well. Most come exclusively in the form of Barrymore’s tepid line readings and the wrongly sugar-sweet tone of her character, but nonetheless, it’s difficult to separate the superb half of the film from the pervasive dribble that does it so much damage. Screenwriter Eric Roth has a wonderful ear for the stern voices of coarse gentlemen, but feels lost penning cutesy pseudo-philosophical mutterings for Billie to toss out amidst the far more enthralling dramatic material at hand. The poker sequences are staged brilliantly by director Curtis Hanson who has a keen eye for what makes these relatively sedate-looking card games so intoxicatingly exciting. He also gets the best out of each performer as they navigate the complex performances necessary for any scene in which characters are supposed to be cautious of their body language and facial expressions as they are in poker. Bana must not only play each moment, but also play the spin Huck is putting on it for the benefit of his competitors. All this detail makes each game tricky to choreograph, but they all come together quite magically in the end.
The Bottom Line: