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CROOKED HEARTS (director/writer: Michael Bortman; screenwriter: from Robert Boswell’s novel; cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto; editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; music: Mark Isham; cast: Vincent D’onofrio (Charley Warren), Peter Berg (Tom Warren), Peter Coyote (Edward Warren), Noah Wyle (Ask Warren), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Marriet), Cindy Pickett (Jill Warren), Juliette Lewis (Cassie Warren); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Rick Stevenson/Dale Pollock/Gil Friesen; MGM; 1991)
“The ensemble cast is engaging.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Bortman is the director and screenwriter of this family drama that is based on the novel by Robert Boswell. It’s the story of the dysfunctional but comfortably living upper-middle-class Warrens and their many unsolvable family problems, a family in need of some sure-fire family counseling. The Washington state residing family consists of the adulterous father Edward (Peter Coyote) and his loving and gritty matriarchal wife Jill (Cindy Pickett) and their four children. Their three sons are: Charley (Vincent D’Onofrio) as the eldest at 26, the middle son Tom (Peter Berg) and the youngest Ask (Noah Wyle). The Warrens’ youngest child is the teenager Cassie (Juliette Lewis).

The rakish and unstable Charley can’t get up enough courage to leave home, yet he can’t get along with his dad. Tom, the father’s favorite son, has just dropped out of college after his freshman year and the father welcomes him back home with a misplaced party. Noah is a wide-eyed and naive youngster, who tries to live life by a number of rules he has made up. One of the rules is “Always keep clean, even in places that don’t show.” Cassie’s problem is that she wishes to withdraw from life, as she has some kind of sleep disorder she uses as a crutch when anything unpleasant arises.

Tom’s new girlfriend, Marriet, (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a kook, who has plans on joining the family. A conflict over her arises between Charley and Tom, as their sibling rivalry takes up a big chunk of the story.

There’s an irritating voice-over throughout provided by Peter Berg, as he explains away the family’s dependency problems. There’s also a pet family dog, who like a pet in many a suburban home is there to help pull the family together in a loving way.

Eventually the family has to face the reality of their situation and deal with all their festering wounds. Charley verbalizes at last that he feels that no matter what he chooses to do he can never please his father. The father maintains he wants each child to find their own way and they will not find him standing in their way. To its credit the film never sunk to typical Hollywood sitcom fare because it was so well written and the ensemble cast is engaging. It left many things for the viewer to think about that has some gravitas. What didn’t work that well was all the over-the-top charm it tried to pile on.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”