Thursday, January 22, 2009

One Chance Too Many Harvey

Last Chance Harvey by writer/director Joel Hopkins is a misconceived project that is elevated by two great performances by Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson but ultimately falls flat.  Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a man at twilight's door, looking back on a failed existence when he meets Kate Walker (Thompson) on the eve of his daughter's London wedding and she inspires hope within him.  Unfortunately the movie doesn't give the actors enough to play with.  

The camera pulls away just when it should be moving closer, as things start to click between Harvey and Kate.  As romance blooms, we follow Kate and Harvey through several charming London locations without getting close enough to fully to invest in them.  They speak but we don't hear what they are saying.  Instead we hear a melancholy musical score by Dickon Hinchliffe that lends the film all the character of a standard movie of the week.  Music goes a long way towards setting the tone of a picture and it would have seemed a natural fit to write a jazz score, since we learn that Harvey -- a commercial jingle composer -- once dreamt of being a jazz pianist, but this is just one of several missing elements.  

Big moments happen, but the connections between them seem to have been left on the cutting room floor.  The wedding sequence is the centerpiece of the film and is designed to mark a turning point in Harvey's growth, but just as things heat up we are again directed away from the central conflict.   Harvey's troubles with his daughter are resolved in one gulping, melancholy speech that miraculously seems to solve everything between them.  That is, until Kate walks out on the party when she sees him having fun and he is forced to get her back.  The actors inhabit their roles with gravitas and they do their best to sell the ending of the film, but ultimately it hinges on a giant leap of faith and there just isn't enough meat on the bones here -- not that I should even know what that means as a lifelong vegetarian. 

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