Message In A Bottle (1999) dir. Luis Mandoki writ. Gerald DiPego (from the novel by Nicholas Sparks) cine. Caleb Deschanel music Gabriel Yared edt. Steven Weisberg star. Kevin Costner (Garret Blake), Robin Wright Penn (Theresa Osborne), Paul Newman (Dodge Blake), Robbie Coltrane (Charlie Toschi), John Savage (Johnny Land), Linda Paul et. al.
First time, see this on a Diamente heading for Acapulco from Cuernavaca. Reclining seats, window blinds, small monitor on the roof just like a 757 only this is a highway bus, a deluxe cruiser. Movie is dubbed in Spanish, the sound low, almost like insect chatter. Costner, whose voice isn't particularly audiogenic, improves. Newman is great, voice like gravel, an old bandit from a lost arroyo in the Sierra Madre. And Robbie Coltrane, that foaming beast from Cracker? The master of the blistering monologue is isolated to facial expressionism, a talking-head in a false comedy....
Yes indeed. Surrealism by default. You view it like a dream, standing on the outside, waiting to join in... when you can figure out what's going on.
Theresa (Penn) finds a bottle on a beach... it has a message inside which she later shows to the girls at the office... dreamy, stunned pussy music... they love it... and so does their boss Charlie (Coltrane) and he prints it in his newspaper... a message to someone called Catherine, by a sort of poor man's Rossetti in blank verse or is it a bad typewriter... and Jesus, this Theresa is just dying to find a man like this as she's a single mom in a big city... maybe she's a widow but who knows.. and do you care....
Flashes of sunlight through the pines... your blind is up just a hair so's you can see the landscape... and your fellow passengers in double-exposure, reflecting like ghosts in the tinted glass. Your eyes drift back to the movie... somehow Theresa is in a funky coastal town playing detective... there's Garret Blake (Costner) working on his funky sail boat... and there's his funky old man Dodge Blake (Newman), a piss-tank who lives in a funky salt-box on the beach... filled with the paintings of this Catherine who-ever-she-is and you're thinking, hell, Newman is the poet, he's the guy who's writing these bottle messages... but this dummy Theresa thinks it's Costner.
You wake up in the desert, just as the bus is rolling down a hill towards a bottomless gorge filled with the bones of Mexican history and maybe a few dumb tourists. Just as you level out on the big gleaming span bridge, you see Costner grim-faced in a raging storm racing to save an unfortunate family whose yacht is floundering in the fog. He tosses life belts into the ugly, swarming waves... and the father and the kid make it o.k.... but the wife is drowning, so Costner dives in and swims to her and hey, they both drown together! Great -- a symbolic reunion with "Catherine" even though the woman is a stranger's wife (altho who knows for sure) and Costner must've waived the no-death-for-the-star clause in his contract. But any fool can see what's going down here, even if his Spanish isn't up to snuff and he's been asleep most of the time: a dead Costner is better than a live Costner any day, anywhere.
When you get back home you rent it and watch it with the wife as she's been complaining about all the men's movies recently and if nothing else Message In A Bottle is definitely a chick flick. Written by men, produced and directed by them... and the major supporting roles are by them because, make no mistake about it, Costner isn't the star, "Catherine" is. See her in one or two sappy soft-focus scenes is all, yet this dead woman is the emotional maw into which abandoned women everywhere can cast themselves.
Feels good watching it, though, figuring out the plot without being asleep and lonely in Mexico. Somehow your woman is on that bus with you enjoying Message In A Bottle while you look at the mountains and imagine your own movie, like Bogart maybe crazy after gold or John Huston waking up and finding B. Traven, author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, standing at the foot of his bed.
You realize you got some things wrong, however. Maybe it was the small TV screen, maybe it was the tequila, maybe it was just being on a bus headed for Acapulco, but man, you missed a few key plot points. Costner is the author of the bottle messages. Costner is the widow. Coltrane is the guy who found him, not Theresa, although Theresa is the one who sleeps with him. Reading the reviews, it seems no one is happy with the amazing coincidence of "Catherine's" reply (also a message-in-a-bottle) turning up after she's dead and had no way of knowing that Garret had written his.
But that's the supernatural power of love beyond the grave, isn't it?
Maybe you got it right in Mexico. Maybe the old man, Dodge, wrote it, sent it. Newman is the best actor and quite frankly he knows what it takes to save a film.
© LR 3/2000
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