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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Barbra Streisand the filmmaker joins the Criterion Collection family as ‘The Prince of Tides’ receives a new Blu-ray release from the boutique disc/streaming label, with the usual copious bonus features. I really liked the film when I wrote this review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 25, 1991. (And by the by, Nick Nolte did earn his first Oscar nomination for this film and has been nominated twice more since; the film also earned nominations for Kate Nelligan as best supporting actress, and for best picture, adapted screenplay, art direction/set direction, cinematography and James Newton Howard for best original music score, but no wins.)

Nick Nolte gives the performance of his career in "The Prince of Tides," an adult drama based on Pat Conroy's popular novel about a dysfunctional family in South Carolina, and how one member faces up to closeted secrets when he goes to Manhattan on his sister's behalf.

In fact, Nolte is so good, if he doesn't win at least an Oscar nomination as best actor, it will be to the Academy's shame.

Nolte plays Tom Wingo, an unemployed football coach whose marriage to Sallie (Blythe Danner) is crumbling because he can't open up. Tom would seem to love Sallie, and he obviously adores his daughters, but he hides behind one-liners, and though his jokes are often funny, Sallie's been accepting them for too long and is on the verge of giving up trying to communicate.

     

   Nick Nolte, Kate Nelligan, 'Prince of Tides' (1991)

The story gets rolling when Tom's mother (Kate Nelligan) arrives with the tragic news that his sister Savannah (Melinda Dillon) has attempted suicide in New York. So Tom packs his bags and heads for Manhattan.

There he meets Savannah's psychiatrist, the elegant Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand), and before long it becomes apparent that to help Savannah, Tom is going to have to ferret out some of his deepest, darkest family secrets. And it won't be easy.

Meanwhile, he becomes close to Lowenstein, tries to help her smart-mouthed son (Jason Gould, Streisand's real-life son) learn to play football and has a run-in with her obnoxious husband (Jeroen Krabbe). And he realizes that the doctor has some serious family problems of her own.

There are some big themes in "The Prince of Tides," chiefly the suggestion that we carry around too much guilt and sometimes live our lives in a futile attempt to apologize for others.

     

   Melinda Dillon, Nick Nolte, 'Prince of Tides' (1991)

And Streisand the director builds her film to some powerful emotional climaxes, giving Nolte a real showcase for his full-bodied, complex performance. She also pulls superior performances out of her first-rate supporting cast — everyone looks good here, including Streisand, and the unexpected casting of Nelligan as Nolte's mother is a surprise that works.

But there are some serious flaws here, not the least of which is that the film feels extended beyond what should be its ending. When Tom and Lowenstein finally have their romance, it seems to go on forever and causes the film to sag badly. And the suggestion that this fling is a healing, cathartic reaction to his finally coming to terms with his past feels like a cheap device.

Still, most of the emotion here is honestly achieved, and, though Streisand is not the most inventive director, she certainly has a way with actors. And her film is one of the more satisfying efforts of this holiday season.

"The Prince of Tides" is rated R for harsh language, a shockingly violent flashback scene, and sex.