The answer: Robin Williams in a dress.
A Perfect World opened the same day as Mrs. Doubtfire, and while the latter mined gold at the box-office for several months, A Perfect World fizzled out after making a comparatively grim $30 million. Yet this film that marked Clint Eastwood's first directorial effort since winning a pair of Oscars for producing and directing Unforgiven, is one of Eastwood's best efforts, and features the most commanding performance Kevin Costner has ever given.
A Perfect World centers around Butch Haynes (Costner), an escaped convict who abducts a small boy (T.J. Lowther) whom he nicknames Buzz. The boy was abandoned by his father and finds in Haynes a surrogate, albeit one who thinks nothing of putting a bullet through the head of a fellow escapee. As they roam Texas, the two establish a bond. Abused as a child, Haynes is determined to provide Buzz with the father figure neither of them had, but Haynes' conception of fatherhood is twisted as a result of his having lived a life of crime since he was his captive's age. Tragedy is not far behind, nor is Red Garrett (Eastwood), a Texas ranger who, with his deputies and a criminologist (Laura Dern), is tracking Haynes in a camper slated for use by President Kennedy during his upcoming visit to Dallas. The time is November 1963.
Like most of Eastwood's directorial efforts, A Perfect World takes its time - 138 minutes - getting to where it wants to go. The pace is leisurely and the acting is exceptional, especially by Costner who, shedding his clean good guy image, gives his best performance to date. His facial expression as he watches a young boy get slapped by his father is particularly memorable, conveying the pent up anger he feels about his own misguided upbringing. Lowther is equally good, on hand as an actor, not just a cute kid. Eastwood, in a supporting role (in which he takes second billing for the first time since appearing with Shirley Maclaine in 1970's Two Mules for Sister Sara), lets Costner and Lowther take center stage while Dern is shoved into the background so much that her role is superfluous.
For its first two hours, A Perfect World is a compelling drama. Unfortunately, those final eighteen minutes, featuring one of the longest death scenes ever filmed, are so melodramatic as to be ludicrous. Because of that, A Perfect World misses the bullseye after spending so much time precisely on target. Still, Costner and Lowther make such a terrific team, and their misadventures are so believably rendered, that A Perfect World, though not perfect, is very good, indeed.
Brian W. Fairbanks
© 1993 Brian W. Fairbanks