From Socialist Review, No. 171, January 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A Perfect World
Dir: Clint Eastwood
This enjoyable film stars Kevin Costner playing an escaped convict, Butch, who takes a small boy hostage on a run from the law across Texas. The film is built around the relationship that develops between the two. In the background is Clint Eastwood who plays Red, the sheriff in charge of the chase.
Butch has become a ‘career criminal’ since being sent to prison as a boy for joy riding. We learn that Red was responsible for harshly sending Butch down when such an offence normally only got a warning. Butch then is a product of the state’s justice system, alienated by his years in the slammer. The responsibility of the state in forming individuals and the terrible job it does, is a central theme developed in the film along with Red’s sense of guilt for what he did.
Less clearly worked out are the film’s views on the social significance of the relationships between parents and their children. Kids in the film are treated with casual violence by their parents and Eastwood is obviously trying to make a point about the effect this has on them and subsequently on society. Fair enough, if kids are treated badly then it won’t do them a lot of good. But without asking why the grown ups behave in this way you end up with a fairly reactionary ‘it’s the parents to blame’ sort of view.
A theme which seems to be one of Eastwood’s favourites at the moment is the Kennedy assassination. Just as with his last film, In the Line of Fire, the Kennedy killing of 1963 forms a backdrop to the action, with JFK’s fatal visit to Dallas two weeks away in A Perfect World. Whether this is cynical use of Kennedy nostalgia to boost sales or a key philosophical reference point for Eastwood you’ll have to work out for yourselves.
With Kevin ‘schmaltz’ Costner starring alongside a cute little kid there was obviously a danger of the film losing any serious content. But this certainly does not happen. A Perfect World is humorous with some good observations of the world and a sting in the tail.
Throughout, there is a disdain for the law, law men, the FBI and elected officials. The hero is an escaped convict, brutalised by a life in the state prison, struggling to get by in a brutal world. It’s interesting that one of Hollywood’s biggest stars chooses such subject matter to make what will be one of the biggest films over the New Year.
Last updated: 4 March 2017