Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Martin's Day

(Alan Gibson, 1985)
After setting himself on fire and threatening to slit a prison guard's throat, Richard Harris kidnaps little boy Justin Henry at gunpoint...and then joins him on a charming voyage of friendship and self-discovery? Who's buying this? The efforts to show Harris as an innocent soul torn asunder by the cruelties of the penal system aren't accompanied by any actual insight into the system, or even the character. Without any backstory beyond childhood flashbacks, there's no sense of how he got from there to here, no sense of his violence as a symptom - why are all the cops so nice? The film is as confused as we are, and spends half its running time on a completely nonsensical Platonic dialogue between police chief James Coburn and prison psychologist Lindsay Wagner - stuck trying to make their abstract sociopolitical arguments without logic or evidence, it's no wonder they totally phone it in. Compared to them - and to a distinctly 'awkward stage' Henry - Harris comes off pretty well, for an old creep. When he visits long-gone sweetheart Karen Black, or finds his childhood paradise defiled by industry, you feel a bit of the tragedy this character is supposed to represent. And the movie does make the most of its gorgeous Northern-autumn settings. But guess what? The ending sucks.

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