Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Frances O'Connor, Robert Patrick, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, Shawnee Smith, Katherine LaNasa, John Patrick Amedori, Marshall Allman, Ron White, Irma P. Hall, Brent Briscoe
Written by: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
Directed by: Billy Bob Thornton
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content, nudity, drug use and some bloody images
Running Time: 122
Date: 09/13/2013

Jayne Mansfield's Car (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Oscar-winner Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) returns to writing and directing after a bit of a hiatus, and though the result, Jayne Mansfield's Car, is often downbeat and meandering, it's also thoughtful and effective.

It's 1969 in Alabama. Three Caldwell brothers, Jimbo (Robert Patrick), Skip (Billy Bob Thornton), and Carroll (Kevin Bacon) learn that their mother, remarried and living in England, has died. Her English husband, Kingsley (John Hurt), and his two grown children, Phillip (Ray Stevenson) and Camilla (Frances O'Connor) are coming to town to honor the deceased's last wishes to be buried at home. The senior Caldwell, Jim (Robert Duvall) wants nothing to do with them. But very soon, some strange friendships begin to spring up between the locals and the strangers. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War lurks around the corner, and memories of wars past begin bubbling to the surface, causing new conflicts.

Thornton and his frequent co-writer Tom Epperson manage to make the characters deeper through the device of other characters talking about them. But the main point of this movie is the contrasting visions of war from several points of view, without ever showing any battle sequences.

Concepts of three different wars, and various roles played within them (prisoner, soldier, administrator, etc.) bring up complex and opposing reactions. Thornton manages to balance these themes with interesting and damaged characters, while also creating a strong family dynamic. A couple of silly subplots, such as an accidental dose of LSD, don't quite work, and the movie is definitely not for younger viewers, but grownups will find food for thought here.

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