It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Message in a Bottle'' is a tearjerker that strolls from crisis to crisis. It's curiously muted, as if it fears that passion would tear its delicate fabric; even the fights are more in sorrow than in anger, and when there's a fistfight, it doesn't feel like a real fistfight--it feels more like someone thought the movie needed a fistfight 'round about then.
The film is about a man and a woman who believe in great true love. The man believes it's behind him; the woman hopes it's ahead of her. One of their ideals in life is "to be somebody's true north.'' Right away we know they're in trouble. You don't just find true love. You team up with somebody, and build it from the ground up. But "Message in a Bottle'' believes in the kind of love where the romantic music comes first, trembling and sweeping under every scene, and the dialogue is treated like the lyrics.
Yet it is about two likable characters--three, really, since Paul Newman not only steals every scene he's in, but puts it in the bank and draws interest on it. Robin Wright Penn plays Theresa, a researcher for the Chicago Tribune, who finds a letter in a bottle. It is a heartbreaking love note to "Catherine,'' by a man who wants to make amends to his true north. Theresa, a divorced mother of one, is deeply touched by the message, and shares it with a columnist named Charlie (Robbie Coltrane), who of course lifts it for a column. Theresa feels betrayed. (If she thinks she can show a letter like that to a guy with a deadline and not read about it in tomorrow's paper, no wonder she's still a researcher.) The column leads to the discovery of two other letters, on the same stationary. Charlie has the bottle, the cork, the stationery and the handwriting analyzed, and figures the messages came from the Carolinas. A few calls to gift shops, and they know who bought the stationery.
It's Garret Blake (Kevin Costner). Theresa is sent out on a mission to do research about him. She meets his father (Newman), and then the man himself, a shipwright who hand-crafts beautiful vessels. He takes her for a test sail. The wind is bracing and the chemistry is right. "You eat meat?'' he asks her. "Red meat? I make a perfect steak. It's the best thing I do.'' With this kind of buildup, Linda McCartney would have tucked into a T-bone.
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