Message in a Bottle (1999) starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, John Savage, Illeana Douglas, Robbie Coltrane, Jesse James directed by Luis Mandokii written by Nicholas Sparks Movie Review

Message in a Bottle (1999)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn in Message in a Bottle

Costner's Penn Sparks a Romance

"Message in a Bottle" is as you would expect for a movie adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel both tender and heart wrenching. Featuring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn it takes you on a romantic journey through a pretty routine but well crafted love story before throwing you off in a different direction leaving you shocked and emotionally drained. Like many adaptations of Nicholas Sparks's novels "Message in a Bottle" is a tear jerker which shows that a predictable love story can develop into much more than many movies dare deliver.

When Theresa (Robin Wright Penn - Forrest Gump), a researcher for the Chicago Tribune, discovers a message in a bottle washed up on the shore of Cape Cod she becomes touched by the heart felt letter enclosed. Desperate to find the writer of the message she heads to North Carolina where she finds grieving widow Garret Blake (Kevin Costner - Tin Cup), the writer of the message, who is struggling to rebuild his life since the untimely death of his wife. As a bond forms between them she fails to tell him that she discovered his message leaving a cloud over their relationship.

Paul Newman as Dodge Blake in Message in a Bottle

There is something about movies adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels that make them far more interesting than your normal romantic drama. You know that for the most it will follow a semi predictable romantic storyline with all the stereotypical highs and lows that appear in other romantic movies. But you also know that there will be a twist which can leave you feeling like someone has ripped your beating heart from your chest. It is the twist that makes these movies such a joy to watch, which raises them far above all the predictable nonsense which litters the romantic drama genre. "Message in a Bottle" is no different it leaves you slightly shocked whilst also delivering the fuzzy warm feeling that many movies endeavour to achieve.

When it comes to "Message in a Bottle" it does for the most follow that predictable route with a divorced mother finding love with a widowed boat builder but things never running smoothly. The whole set up can be seen a mile off and although it is done beautifully it never pushes any boundaries. The fact that Theresa hides her motive for finding Garret means that we can second guess that at some point he will discover this and it will no doubt be the cause of a major bust up, although I must add that there is a nice twist at this point which stops it from being totally predictable. We even know with it being set by the water in North Carolina that we will get plenty of long angle camera shots which take in the surroundings to illustrate the romance of the area, along with various scenes walking along the beach. But it doesn't really matter because it is all very well done and helps draw you into the ever developing storyline.

If you stopped watching "Message in a Bottle" after about 70 minutes you would probably be a little disappointed as it rarely strays from that predictable romantic formula. But then the whole movie gets shaken up just when you are starting to feel comfortable that you are going to get a warm, fuzzy predictable climax. This is where "Message in a Bottle" and other Nicholas Sparks adaptations stand out from the crowd and although it may feel strange to spend so long being routine just to throw a curve ball at you in the last, it works brilliantly. Even if you expect that all may not go as you expect it still manages to shock you.

If I was to make any real criticism of "Message in a Bottle" is that at times the dialogue is as corny as you get. I actually found myself laughing when Theresa spouts some cliche nonsense and although these moments do cheapen the movie they are few and far between. But on the flip side there are also some great moments of dialogue such as when Garret's father Dodge, wonderfully played by Paul Newman, tells him "Now you choose, choose between yesterday and tomorrow. Pick one, stick with it". It's moments of dialogue like these which really stand out and make you realise something about your own life.

As for the performances well they are all good, not brilliant but by no means poor. Kevin Costner who I must admit I sometimes get bored off does a decent job of delivering a subdued performance, flitting from being melancholy one moment to revelling in young love the next. This may sound rather strange but Costner carries it off and you honestly believe that Garret is struggling to let go of the past. Robin Wright Penn proves that she is not just a pretty face by delivering a charming performance as Theresa the divorcee who wants to love Garret but can't whilst he is still holding onto the past. The pairing works remarkably well and together are believable as a romantic couple, especially in those beautifully choreographed scenes which both revel in the intimate but also capture the sun lit surroundings.

But the real scene stealer for me is Paul Newman who plays Garret's father Dodge. He may not have a huge amount of scenes but those which revolve around him are magnificent. He has this air about him that makes it feel like he's not acting but rather drawing on a life times worth of experience to become the character. When he offers advice you just feel that the words are not scripted rather than being spoken from the heart.

What this all boils down to is that for the most "Message in a Bottle" is a tear jerker that delivers an intentionally predictable storyline only to throw you when it delivers a sledge hammer of a twist that will leave you feeling emotionally drained. It's enjoyable for many reasons and although has a couple of minor flaws they are insignificant when you compare them to all that is right about the movie. For those who are fans of Nicholas Sparks's adaptations this one is definitely worth a watch but I am sure the actual book is even more impressive.

Tags: Nicholas Sparks