Message in a Bottle


Theresa (Robin Wright Penn) is a recently divorced Chicago Tribune staffer. Since she is wan and frizzy-haired with a cheerful yet slightly strained manner, we know that all she needs is a good man and those cheeks will flush with her second spring and she’ll get that promotion. During a Cape Cod vacation, Theresa finds a bottle washed up on shore with a letter inside to “Catherine,” whom we can presume is either the writer’s long-lost love or his human-resources contact at Hallmark: “I feel I’ve been lost, no bearings, no compass… You were my true north.” Theresa decides to track down the note’s directionally challenged originator, and finds Garret Blake, a sailboat builder in North Carolina. Since he is played by Kevin Costner, we know that he’s an oddball outsider, a strong, silent type who gets into bar fights. Catherine turns out to be Garret’s dead wife, though her demise is the film’s one real mystery. “Pregnancy just took the stuffing right out of her. I took care of her the best I could,” Garret explains with the simplicity we’re supposed to mistake for gravity; I was just left wondering if the Blakes were Christian Scientists, since I’m not prepared to accept the film’s apparent conjecture that there aren’t any doctors in redneck country (though Garret probably wouldn’t be able to find them anyway). The screenplay hums along like clockwork: city girl and country boy meet cute, court awkward, fall in love, have a fight, and reconcile just in time for a big ending, a tacked-on tragedy that unfolds to the strains of Gabriel Yared’s score. Since it retreads Yared’s music for The English Patient, we’re only reminded of another movie about maps and memory, an infinitely more accomplished proof of a bad idea: that cosmic doom, above all else, is damn sexy.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 1999

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