In the best performance of his career, Kevin Costner plays a menacing father figure

In the best performance of his career, Kevin Costner plays a menacing father figure

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: In anticipation of Captain Phillips, we recommend movies about hostage situations.

A Perfect World (1993)

Clint Eastwood takes a backseat to Kevin Costner in A Perfect World, the former’s directorial follow-up to his 1992 Oscar-winner Unforgiven. In this bleak, beautiful, 1950s-set saga of outlaw fathers and sons, Eastwood is a Texas Ranger tasked with hunting down Costner’s bandit, who escapes from prison, takes young Jehovah’s Witness T.J. Lowther as a hostage, and begins a trek that he hopes will end in Alaska. That journey also initially includes fellow on-the-lam inmate Keith Szarabajka, but when Szarabajka gets too frisky with Lowther, Costner puts him down in a cornfield—a murder dramatized with a shot of Lowther running to safety, only fleetingly stopping when the kill shot is fired. That moment is merely the most haunting in a film full of them, as Eastwood (working from John Lee Hancock’s superb script and shooting in panoramic widescreen) lends both tenderness and terror to his portrait of parent-child bonding, coming-of-age anxieties, and deeply rooted psychosis out in the Texas countryside.

Eastwood is joined in his pursuit by Laura Dern’s criminologist—unfazed by Eastwood’s sexist condescension—and Bradley Whitford’s federal agent, all of them packed into a newfangled mobile trailer outfitted with the latest crime-fighting technology. That gadgetry, however, is incapable of helping them nab Costner, whose burgeoning bond with Lowther is informed by his own twisted daddy issues. Costner tries to heal childhood abuse and abandonment wounds by turning a sheltered captive into both his surrogate son and a man—a process that involves teaching him how to steal a car, pee in nature, and, finally, how to kill in order to protect the innocent. It’s material primed for mushiness, yet Eastwood shrewdly marries sentimentality to both self-deprecating humor (including a late bullhorn gag) and darker, more desolate undercurrents. In a career-best performance, Costner embodies his protagonist as a sick dog who’s both good-hearted and irredeemably deformed. Yet the real tragedy of A Perfect World is expressed by Eastwood himself, summing up the film’s omnipresent despair—and regret about his own failures—by admitting that he “don’t know nothing. Not a damn thing.”

Availability: A Perfect World is available on Blu-ray and DVD (obtainable from Netflix’s disc-delivery service) and to rent or purchase from the major digital providers.

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