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A Perfect World is a 1993 drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Kevin Costner as an escaped convict who befriends a young boy (T.J. Lowther), and ends up embarking on a road trip with the child. Eastwood co-stars as a Texas Ranger in pursuit of the convict.

Synopsis

The film is set in Texasmarker in the fall of 1963. Robert "Butch" Haynes (Kevin Costner) and Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka) are convicts who have just escaped from a Huntsvillemarker prison. Fleeing from the clutches of the law, the pair stumble into the kitchen of a house where eight-year old Phillip Perry (T. J. Lowther) lives with his devout Jehovah's Witness mother and two sisters. Needing a hostage to aid their escape, Butch grabs the boy, who meekly accompanies them. The trio's journey starts off on an unpleasant note as Butch is forced to shoot his fellow escapee with a stolen revolver, following the latter's attempts at molesting the child. With his partner out of the way, the convict and his young victim take to the Texas highway in a bid to flee from the pursuing police.

Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood), riding in the Governor's sleek airstream trailer, is in hot pursuit of the duo. With criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern) and trigger-happy FBImarker sharpshooter Bobby Lee (Bradley Whitford) in tow, Ranger Garnett is determined to recover the criminal and the hostage before they cross the Texas border. The plot thus alternates between a manhunt unfolding on one level, and on the other, the blossoming of a tender bond between the convict and his "prisoner."

As the plot unfolds, it is revealed that Phillip comes from a family whose attachment to their religion forbids him from indulging in any of the normal pursuits common for children of his age. All of eight years old, the boy has never participated in Halloween or Christmas celebrations, and has seemingly had all the fun completely cut out from his life. Escaping with Butch, however, he experiences a joy of freedom which he finds exhilarating, as Butch gladly allows him the kind of indulgences he has been forbidden all along. Gradually, the kid becomes increasingly aware of his surroundings, and with constant encouragement from Butch (whom he now sees almost as a father figure), seems to acquire the ability to make independent decisions on what is wrong and right. For his part, Butch sees in the boy's innocence a bit of his own lost childhood, and slowly finds himself drawn into giving Phillip the kind of fatherly presence which (as is subsequently revealed) he himself never had.

As the narrative progresses, it also establishes considerable background for the characters and situations that develop - notably the history between Butch Haynes and Red Garnett, and Butch's own past which he reveals to Phillip and which, in a strange way, explains the developing closeness between the two, despite the well-established fact that Butch is indeed a killer. This background, punctuated by frequent cuts to Chief Garnett's chase as he draws closer and closer to Butch, further sets the stage for the climax involving a final confrontation between the two. The dramatic ending involves Garnett's team taking up positions preparing to ambush the farm where Butch and Phillip have taken refuge. Unwilling to leave the already wounded Butch, the boy runs back and hugs him - a gesture which, along with his knowledge of Butch's character and background, convinces Garnett that he can resolve the situation peacefully. His plans are thwarted, however, when Bobby Lee, mistaking one of Butch's gestures to suppose he is about to draw a gun, fires a shot into his chest and kills him. The move leaves Garnett angry and frustrated at his inability to save Butch and take him alive, leading him to confess at the film's conclusion - "I don't know nothing. I don't know a damn thing."

The fact that Garnett is a disappointed man at the end (despite the fact that his mission of recovering the hostage has been a success) is indicative of the fact that he perhaps knew, from previous encounters with Butch Haynes, that he was essentially a good man at heart, driven by circumstances to become the cold-blooded killer he was perceived as.

Title

The film's title comes from an exchange between the criminologist Sally Gerber (Laura Dern) and one of the Texas Rangers who is helping track the convict. When the Ranger says, "In a perfect world we'd all lock arms and thrash the bushes till he turned up", Gerber answers, "In a perfect world things like this wouldn't happen in the first place."

Production

While Eastwood was making In the Line of Fire, he was given the screenplay to A Perfect World. He was also in the midst of campaigning for the Academy Awards with Unforgiven and saw A Perfect World as an opportunity to work as a director only and take a break from acting. However, when Kevin Costner was approached with the screenplay for the movie, he suggested that Eastwood would be perfect for the role of Texas Ranger Red Garnett. Eastwood agreed, realizing that his screentime would not be as significant, leaving most of the time to work behind the camera.

The film was shot in Martindale, Texasmarker, near Lockhartmarker.

Reception

A Perfect World grossed $31 million in box office receipts in the United States with overseas gross at $101 million, raising the final result to $132 million, making it a financial success. The film received largely positive reviews, winning considerable praise for its emotional depth and accurate depiction of the psychology of hostage situations. Kevin Costner's subtly nuanced portrayal of the escaped convict Butch Haynes forms the cornerstone of the film's success and has been hailed as one of the actor's finest performances yet. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "a film any director alive might be proud to sign," while the New York Times hailed it as "a deeply felt, deceptively simple film that marks the high point of Mr. Eastwood's directing career thus far."

In the years since its release, the film has been acclaimed by critics as one of Eastwood's most satisfying (albeit underrated) directorial achievements, and the scenes between the convict (Costner) and his young captive (T. J. Lowther) have been acknowledged as some of the most delicately crafted sequences in all of Eastwood's body of work. Cahiers du Cinema selected A Perfect World as the best film of 1993.

Inexact portrayal of Jehovah's Witnesses beliefs

The fact that Phillip has never had cotton candy or a party (not birthday) is attributed to his religion when in fact Jehovah's Witnesses have never condemned either of these activities. Additionally, when questioned by Butch about his theft of the Casper costume, Phillip says he is afraid of going to hell. However, Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in hell as a punishment for sin.

See also



References

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