1991 Directed by Alan Rudolph. Starring Demi Moore, Glenne Headley, Bruce Willis, John Pankow, Harvey Keitel, Billie Neal.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 26, 1991
What went wrong here? There's so much fascinating potential lurking in this movie that when it fails to deliver, it's a mortal disappointment. Start with the basic plot elements of two Bayonne, NJ girlfriends, Joyce (Headley) and Cynthia (Moore), whose lives focus on their families and running Joyce's (aptly named) Clip'n'Dye Beauty Salon. When Joyce's abusive husband James (Willis) is found dead in a ditch with this throat slashed, no one's too put out. But there's this detective (Keitel) whose job it is to find perpetrators and motives. You think he's a dull slug at first until you slowly realize he's actually a tenacious investigator. The movie unfolds in flashbacks as Cynthia's story is probed within the confines of a police interrogation room. Further, Cynthia's testimony is being videotaped, and as the scrutiny becomes ever tighter so do the camera shots (both within the movie and the videotape) to a point where we see extreme close-ups of lips, eyes and other disengaged body parts. Yet while the indoor investigatory probe becomes more and more claustrophobic, the flashbacks that relate the events look as if they derived from the mind of Michael Mann (Thief, Miami Vice), the inventor of pastel film noir. There's a story here somewhere about friendship, survival and choices that, on the surface, looks straightforward enough but when contemplated rationally just doesn't stack up. In fact, the more you think about it, the more muddled it gets. The script is awash with uncertainties -- some intriguing, some frustrating. The wildly uneven director Rudolph also must shoulder some of the blame. What cannot be underestimated in Mortal Thoughts are the performances. Absolutely extraordinary all the way around. Disappointments don't come more intriguingly packaged than in Mortal Thoughts.