Howard is at his best working in the genre he grew up in -- the small, light comedy. Unfortunately, he seems determined to make the big picture and last year we saw the overblown Backdraft,
that paean to suicidal macho tendencies. The good news is that Far and Away
is a lot more enjoyable than Backdraft.
The bad news is that it's most enjoyable for adolescents. Cruise plays a lowborn Catholic tenant farmer who, with his family, works land for a Protestant absentee landlord, Prosky. Obviously, it's going to take some plot machinations to bring the landlord's daughter, Kidman, together with Cruise and on the road to America. Cruise, ineptly attempts to murder his landlord and becomes a prisoner in the house awaiting hanging. Kidman recognizes him as her ticket out of a stifling existence and they work out a business arrangement in which he helps her get to America and she pays for his passage. It is this early section that seems to take up most of the movie. Their later adventures in Boston where she works as a chicken plucker and he boxes his way to local celebrity, feel more rushed, especially since we all know that they must eventually get to Oklahoma to participate in the land rush. At best Cruise is pleasant; at worst he's unbelievable in the role of a boxer. Kidman does a much better job of holding up her end as a spirited, yet spoiled princess in a dangerous new element. For his part, Howard is tiptoeing around in John Ford country when he should be wearing bigger boots. There is a richness to Far and Away
that seems wasted on its simple love story straight out of It Happened One Night.
The couple, sharing the same miserable hotel room because of their poverty, stare at each other with smoldering looks and barely suppressed sighs, yet their love is unspoken and unrequited. The appeal here is for a young audience longing for their own adventures and true love but more often staring across classrooms or shopping malls with those same smoldering looks. There is a lot of stuff here -- bustles, hats, lace, gowns, Robert Prosky, top hats, carriages, and a really grand long shot of the Oklahoma land rush -- but you take it all away and you're left with something like Blue Lagoon.
Perhaps now that Howard has had this opportunity to explore his own roots (three of his great-grandparents participated in the landrush), he will remember where he came from.