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MRS. SOFFEL

year: 1984 cast: Diane Keaton, Mel Gibson, Matthew Modine, Terry Quinn rating: ***
Somewhere between BADLANDS and DEAD MAN WALKING lies MRS. SOFFEL, a time-period melodrama about a warden’s Christian wife, played by a wistful Diane Keaton, who, while handing out bibles on death row, gets enamored with a slick, handsome folk hero, a young Mel Gibson soon to be hanged with younger brother Matthew Modine.

Whether it’s true love, or the fact Gibson’s character (who sounds strangely like Eric Roberts) has a way of conning na├»ve women, the underlying passion between the polar opposites, with the gray prison bars between them, is an engaging buildup to the inevitable escape and, during the final act the trio: Keaton, Gibson and Modine, ride a sled through the snowy winter with Terry O’Quinn’s posse on their tail.

The romantic aspect is somewhat thin – if Gibson resembled an everyman prisoner, would there be a film at all? But the direction, gorgeous cinematography and apt performances provide a spellbinding combination of style and substance, although there’s more of the first than the latter.
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