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‘Far and Away’

By John F. Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 22, 1992


Ron Howard
Tom Cruise;
Nicole Kidman;
Thomas Gibson;
Robert Prosky;
Barbara Babcock;
Colm Meaney;
Eileen Pollock;
Michelle Johnson
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Far and Away," the new feel-good epic from director Ron Howard, isn't a movie, it's a cartoon. That's not an entirely bad thing. Cartoons can be enjoyable. The characters may be two-dimensional and broadly drawn, but you won't shed a tear if they fall off a cliff or get squashed by an anvil.

This particular cartoon might be called "An American Tail 3," telling as it does the story of immigrant struggle in that bubbling caldron known as America. Tom Cruise is Irish tenant farmer Joseph Donelly, who, when we meet him, is scraping a meager existence on Ireland's western coast in 1892. He can't own the land he works because it's the property of absent landlord Daniel Christie (Arena Stage alum Robert Prosky), whose thugs terrorize Cruise's family. Cruise vows revenge.

Prosky turns out to be a softie, an unhappy rich man dominated by his wife. There's more spunk in his daughter Shannon (Nicole Kidman). She claims to be "modern," and is upset that her mother won't let her gallop on her horse or play the latest in jaunty piano music from America. She's unhappily continued on Page 44 from Page 42 engaged to Thomas Gibson, who -- with his high cheekbones and villainously jet black moustache -- looks like he's just come from tying a damsel to a railroad track.

Cruise and Kidman manage to light out for America together, where they've heard land is just being given away in the Oklahoma Territories. She can be free to ride a horse the way she likes; he can grow wheat on his own property.

The movie's plot doesn't have a whole lot of surprises: Arriving in Boston the pair pose as brother and sister, are installed in a whorehouse by Irish fixer Mike Kelly (Colm Meaney) and set to work in a chicken-plucking plant. Cruise transfers the sexual energy that comes from sharing a room in a whorehouse with the strawberry-blonde Kidman from his crotch to his fists, becoming Meaney's prize prizefighter.

What is a surprise is that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are almost entirely credible in their roles. He's comfortable with his spud farmer accent; she's much more believable as a naive heiress than as, say, a knockout brain surgeon (her role in "Days of Thunder," the duet's previous screen pairing). It's the comic scenes that the real-life husband and wife are best at -- sparring, hiding affection, mocking one another. They make for some truly funny moments.

The only problem is that director Howard (who co-wrote the story with screenwriter Bob Dolman) means us to take the movie as seriously as he does. "Far and Away's" light scenes are far and away better than its dark or touching ones. The boxing scenes become progressively more violent, with blood and phlegm flying everywhere. This "Raging Bull"-style realism is jarring when you consider that all the peasants and tenement dwellers are coated with the kind of shiny makeup "dirt" last seen in "Oliver!"

Incidentally, its makers say "Far and Away" is the first feature film to be presented in Panavision Super 70mm. There didn't seem to be much difference from the standard 35mm, except in one scene. We do finally get to that Oklahoma land rush (filmed in Montana, actually) and it's a wonderful orgy of galloping horses and overturning wagons. It's proof that Ron Howard may have an epic in him somewhere, even if this isn't it.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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