Domestic Disturbance

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Good credits put you in a positive mood about a movie. These ones are clever, but not too clever, and by the time John Travolta's face fills the screen, you're ready and willing. All the director can do is let you down gently, which he does, but it's not his fault. The story begins to leak.

Frank Morrison (Travolta) is a boat builder. He's a nice guy, everybody likes him and he has no illusions about the family business. "People don't want these wooden boats anymore," he says. Plastic is cheaper. He's never going to be rich, like Rick (Vince Vaughn), who is about to marry Susan (Teri Polo), his ex.

The relationship between Frank and Susan and their 12-year-old son, Danny (Matthew O'Leary), is well-handled. Danny loves his dad. He's going through a tough time, handling the separation and then the divorce and now this new guy. He tells lies a lot and dodges school and ends up at the police station. Susan worries about him. Frank is cool. He knows he's alright deep down. He believes him, listens to him.

One night Danny runs away to his dad's house and tells him that he has witnessed Rick kill a man and burn his body in the furnace at the brick factory. The cops are called. No evidence is found and Danny takes the rap for causing trouble with his lies again.

What begins as an interesting family situation, with a wayward boy reflecting the broken strands of a marriage that's snapped, ends as melodrama. Although beautifully photographed in rich locations, the film reverts to thriller cliches. The performances are polished. By now, you can depend on Travolta. There is not much acting involved here, but what he does, he does with style.

Vaughn, who had the misfortune of recreating Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho and being pilloried (unfairly) by the critics for disturbing hallowed ground, has to mix charm with menace and it's not easy. O'Leary, in the pivotal role, is very impressive. He could have been a brat and it would have worked, but he's softer than that, implying emotional confusion and genuine fear with considerable skill.

As an added bonus, Steve Buscemi appears as an unwelcome guest who knows too much about Rick's past. You have to study his face before accepting that this man never goes out. He must cultivate the death-watch look like he chooses thrift store cast-offs. Watching him sleaze through a scene is a 10 cent treat. No one in Hollywood can emulate his aura of damaged waste.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2002
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A divorced dad finds himself at loggerheads with his son's new stepfather.
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Director: Harold Becker

Writer: Lewis Colick

Starring: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matthew O'Leary, Steve Buscemi

Year: 2001

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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