Cinema: Of Time and the River

Coming to terms with bravery and tomfoolery

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Directed by Bruce Beresford

Screenplay by Alfred Uhry

It is the season when movies are ablaze with self-importance, urging us to contemplate, through various fictive metaphors, the great issues of our time. And, by the way, to spare some kindly thoughts for the high-mindedness of their makers and their worthiness for Oscar nominations.

Such a metaphor is available in Driving Miss Daisy. If you look hard, you can find in this account of the 25-year relationship between Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), a genteel Southern, Jewish matriarch, and her black chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), a microcosmic study of changing racial attitudes in a crucial time and place (Atlanta, circa 1948-73). What you will not find in this marvelously understated movie is overtly inspirational comments on that subject, broad sentimentality or the slightest pomposity about its own mission. In other words, Alfred Uhry's adaptation of his Pulitzer-prizewinning play aspires more to complex observation of human behavior than to simple moralism about it. Precisely because it has its priorities straight, it succeeds superbly on both levels.

Director Bruce Beresford's tone is cool and shadowy -- like Miss Daisy's fine old house. Hoke is introduced into it by her son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd, displaying full credentials as an actor), when at 72 Miss Daisy careers her car into a neighbor's yard. She has objections, suspicions. She harbors -- yes -- more racial prejudice than she has ever been forced to admit.

But Hoke is a wise and patient man. And Miss Daisy is a woman worthy of those qualities. She may be comically set in her small ways, but she casts a shrewd eye on her immediate world. As she ages, that world shrinks, so that Hoke looms ever larger within it. As a result, she is forced to think harder about the growing civil rights struggle than she might otherwise have. An encounter with menacing red-neck cops on a country road, the bombing of her synagogue, a distant but moving exposure to the force of Martin Luther King Jr.'s oratory all have their effect on her. But mostly it is the simple presence of a good man that grants her age's greatest benison, expanding rather than shrinking her humanity.

One cannot speak too highly of the subtlety that two great actors, Freeman and Tandy, bring to their roles. Or of the faith that Beresford places in their ability to convey large emotions through an exchange of glances in a rearview mirror. Or of his trust in a script that speaks most eloquently through silences and indirection. All, finally, have placed their faith in the audience's ability to read their delicately stated work with the responsiveness it deserves. It would be a shame to fail them.


Directed by Edward Zwick

Screenplay by Kevin Jarre

It just slips under the wire as the first large-scale Civil War film of the decade. And it may be the last of the millennium, so far out of favor (and economic viability) have historical epics of all kinds fallen. Maybe one's good response to Glory derives from the sheer novelty of the thing and from admiration for the producers' gumption in flinging it in the face of the movie audience's indifference to the pretelevised past.

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