Sunday, August 12, 2012
Without knowing much about this movie going in, it's difficult for me to gage just how much one of the main plot points would be considered heavy spoiler material. I'm going to assume since the plot point in question happens about a quarter of the way in that it's not too major. That being said, if you have your heart set on avoiding one of the major plot turns early in the movie, I suggest you stop reading. Still here? Good.
Always is a story about an aerial firefighter pilot named Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss). Other primary characters include his girlfriend and dispatcher Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter) and his best friend and fellow pilot Al Yackey (John Goodman). Pete Sandich is quite the cocky pilot and takes risks he probably ought not to. As his friend Al notes, the risks would be understandable if somebody's life was at stake, but that's just not the case here. Both Al and Dorinda urge Pete to consider relocating to an aerial firefighter training program in Colorado where he can become an instructor. Pete's reluctant until Dorinda pleads with him that she can't endure the stress of worrying about him any longer. Despite Pete's agreement to quit and take up a less risky position, an emergency call places him in the smoky skies once more, and in a dangerous effort, he manages to save the life of his friend Al at the expense of his own.
In death, Pete is greeted by a spirit named Hap (Audrey Hepburn) who soon explains that Pete's spirit will be sent back in order to guide new aerial firefighter in training. Though he can't directly interact with the world, he can attempt to communicate to the living in such a way that his words feel like their own thoughts. Complications arise when Pete learns that Dorinda is now living on the same training base as his new protege, and he has to decide how best to use the gift of his spiritual return.
Spielberg is pretty good at the heartwarming sentimental stuff. Always sure is full of a lot of that, and yet it didn't quite affect me the way that I thought it would have had I known the premise in advance. I mean, a dead guy trying to communicate with the people he held closest sounds like just the sort of thing to get my tear ducts working. The best reason I can point to for why it didn't really work was the somewhat chaotic focus of the plot. At first, it seems like Pete is simply training an amateur firefighter. The movie looks to be an inspiring tale of how a little spirit can turn a buffoon into a hero, but then it quickly switches gears when the ol' girlfriend appears. I think I was thrown by the way they set-up this amateur guy, but don't quite give him the pay off that I was expecting. On the other hand, I would have been upset if they just left the girlfriend tale at Pete's death. Maybe the movie was damned if it did and damned if it didn't.
Still, there were some heartstrings pulled as Pete has to learn the difference between doing whats best for himself and doing whats best for Dorinda or using this opportunity to tell her all the thing he never seemed to be able to while alive. The movie definitely takes the time to deal with what it means to hold on or let go to the people who've passed on. I just felt that it got bogged down by a lot of the training school plot elements.
Overall, I don't think Always was bad. The cast chemistry was fantastic, and the core of the story truly was something touching, but it didn't quite live up to the Spielberg degree of quality I've come to expect. There is an almost Capraesque old-timey movie quality to Always, which makes sense since it was apparently based on a 1943 film titled A Guy Named Joe. I might just have to check that one out someday, but for now, if I want to watch a dead guy come back to aid his grieving significant other, I'll stick with Ghost.