1996, R, 104 min. Directed by Bruno Barreto. Starring Dennis Hopper, Amy Irving, Amy Locane, Hal Holbrook, Julie Harris, Christopher Pettet, Gary Busey.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 14, 1996
Thoreau once observed that most of us endure a life of “quiet desperation.” In the beautifully realized Carried Away, a middle-aged, country schoolteacher, finding himself at a seeming dead end in his life, defies his destiny by engaging in an affair with one of his students, an unstable young woman who is as dangerous as she is beautiful. Of course, indiscretion has its price -- the more mature woman he also loves but cannot commit to marry is wounded by the infidelity, feeling she has wasted the past few years waiting for naught. Based on a novel by Jim Harrison, Carried Away refreshingly does not judge Joseph's behavior and yet, it is a surprisingly moral movie that speaks to the need to undo the constraints of a mundane existence, no matter how irrational or foolish the liberating act may be. Director Barreto has a fine eye for composition and a knowing heart for human emotion, keeping things simple and sparse. In more compromising hands, Carried Away might have traded melodrama for truth, but thankfully, there's not a hint of manipulation in it. The cinematography by Declan Quinn is as striking as in any film in recent memory (save maybe Shanghai Triad): The Texas landscapes often evoke the nostalgia of a bleached-out color photograph taken long ago, the chiaroscuro scenes in early evening and night are exquisitely rendered. (A shot of Busey in pre-dawn morning, his seemingly menacing grin lit while the rest of his face remains in shadow, is an inspired bit of framing.) The cast -- featuring the best performance by Hopper in years -- is superb, particularly Irving as the generous and patient woman whom he betrays. In a scene in which Joseph demands that Rosealee have sex with him with all the lights on, so that they can finally see each other physically and emotionally naked after years of making love in the dark, Irving is a marvel -- conveying trepidation and exhilaration at the same time with subtle facial gestures, she makes Rosealee come alive. One of the great things about Carried Away is how its actors, its script, and its direction don't condescend to the film's characters. These may be small-town folks with not much going on in their lives but an everyday routine, but they're smart and funny and frank. Thoreau may have been right about the inevitable slumps in life, but if you're going to stagnate, you might as well do it with a little style.