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WATERLAND

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 26, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Though not entirely successful, this offbeat melodrama has a following, and fans apparently prevailed upon Warner Archive to reissue the film on DVD. Here’s my review of its theatrical release, published in the Deseret News on Jan. 8, 1993.

"Waterland" is sort of a perverse take on "Dead Poets Society" — right down to the reverse casting of Ethan Hawke as a cynical student who finds history boring since the world is probably going to self-destruct at any moment.

In fact, you can almost hear the pitch to the financiers who funded this film: How can it miss? This story has everything — teen sex, drunkenness, war, debauchery, insanity, class discrimination, deceit, abortion, kidnapping, suicide, murder, incest. …

Let's see. Anything I've left out?

     

          Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, 'Waterland'

"Waterland" begins in the classroom where we meet haggard high school history teacher Mr. Crick (Jeremy Irons) in 1973 Pittsburgh, a transplanted Englishman who is trying to instill in his students his own love of history. In particular, a hardened, unhappy pupil (Ethan Hawke) who becomes a personal challenge.

To do so, he turns to stories about his own history, his personal life. Of course, he's really purging himself more than attempting to enlighten his students. And when it is learned that some of his stories include mention of his own teenage promiscuity, his superiors, naturally, are aghast.

Meanwhile, his wife (Sinead Cusack, Irons' real-life wife) is slipping into madness over her inability to bear children. The reason for this — and all of the film's many other ultra dramatic plot twists — are explained in flashback. They include some stylish sequences where we see that Irons' stories have become so vivid that he and his students are taking part in those flashbacks.

     

There are some interesting set pieces here, some moments when the filmmakers, adapting Graham Swift's novel, seem to be on to something. But too often the film is overly impressed with its own devices, and the story unfolds in such a haphazard manner that its emotions are muted.

One could also argue that the melodramatics are overwrought and simply too much. In the end, after all, this is little more than a gussied-up, artsy soap opera of the obvious kind.

There are, however, some excellent performances from Irons and the rest of the cast.

"Waterland" is rated R for violence and a fair amount of sex, nudity and profanity.