Review by Gene
Once upon a time, prior to about 9 or 10 years ago, Tom Cruise starred in some pretty substantial dramas. Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July, A Few Good Men… the list goes on. Tucked in nicely between many of those is this little-known film in which Cruise stars as Joseph Donnelly, an Irish immigrant who came to America to escape the shackles of landlords and find his own land.
Far and Away is a Ron Howard directed film which tries to be an epic tale of the American dream realized, but falls short in a number of ways and was probably a slight disappointment for Howard et al. Set in the late 1800’s, it has all the makings of a terrific tale of adventure, freedom-seeking and romance. It is not a bad film by any stretch, there is plenty to love about the premise of the film, but the execution on screen, in my opinion, slightly missed the mark.
Joseph Donnelly is a hard-working, scrapper of a farm boy living as a tenant on land in Ireland with his two brothers and his father. They’re living off the land and doing their best to satisfy the seemingly unreasonable demands of their landlord. The greed of the landlords in Ireland is a central component to this opening act of the movie. It is a very easy trapping to fall into, taking pride in things you’ve earned through your work and desiring more, always more. But greed has no place in the heart of a servant of Christ. Paul passes on instruction concerning this to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Tim. 6:17,18). Riches come and go, often due to forces outside our control. But our good works and our generosity can remain a part of us for as long as we decide to keep to them.
When Joseph’s father dies (ironically due to a riot against landlords passing through town) and the landlord, Mr. Christie, sends his associates to burn their home due to non-payment of rent, Joseph decides to take vengeance in his own hands and murder Mr. Christie. “I want justice for what he’s done.” Joseph’s justice however isn’t quite of the “eye for an eye” variety, and he intends to murder Mr Christie. His grand plan doesn’t exactly succeed and, through a fairly awkward set of circumstances, we are introduced to the landlord’s daughter, Shannon Christie. Played by Nicole Kidman, Shannon is a bit of a rebel in her own right. She leaves the top button of her collar loose, she plays “band music” from America on the piano and in general she despises the life her mother has planned out for her. She longs for the modern world of America because, as she assures Joseph numerous times, she’s modern! She decides to run away and ends up giving Joseph the out he needs to seek out his own land.
Once in America, specifically in Boston, Shannon and Joseph quickly realize they aren’t the only ones who planned to make it big in this modern country. After a rough start, they’re quickly ushered into a local bare-fists boxing club seemingly run by Irish immigrants. The leader, Mike Kelly (Colm Meaney), explains to Joseph he’ll get him working, and get him voting when the time comes. Ahhhh, voter fraud. Now there is something familiar! Good to know (or is it?) that this is no invention of our day and age. While at the club, Shannon begins to be harassed by some of the men. Joseph calmly approaches them and says, “I’ll ask you to leave the lady alone.” When it’s clear they won’t, he promptly decks the biggest guy and proceeds to whoop him around the room! Given the company, Joseph wasn’t leaving that situation without getting punched, or throwing some punches, and it put a smile on my face. That type of chivalry isn’t often seen save for a husband protecting his wife (sometimes not even then, unfortunately). It reminded me of the type of self-sacrificial love we are to have for one another (Jn. 15:13, Eph. 5:25). Now, it can hardly be said that Joseph loved Shannon at this point in the film. They were still mostly strangers, but that only makes his willingness to protect her all the more impressive.
As the days, weeks and months go by the sexual tension between the two begins to rise. It certainly doesn’t help matters that they are forced to share a room at a local brothel. Joseph finds his release of this pinned up energy by regular visits to the boxing club. Turns out he’s quite the fighter. Many of these scenes are reminiscent of Fight Club (save for the corny music) and through this transition, the movie moves along into another phase entirely. Joseph goes from a nobody to a somebody through his boxing dominance. He soon seems to forget about his dream to own his own land in exchange for the local fame and his pension to buy lots of hats. Meanwhile, Shannon continues her work at the chicken factory and makes the same strides down the social ladder as Joseph has made going up. Through it all Joseph’s natural inclination to protect Shannon remains, and ends up costing him his favor with Kelly and everything he has saved.
I really appreciated the efforts made at portraying the relationship between Joseph and Shannon. Each of them is given moments of being smitten with the other, catching glimpses of a shadow behind a curtain changing clothes, admiring the physique of the other. I would guess if this movie were made today, perhaps by someone other than Ron Howard, these moments would have been embellished and taken as an opportunity to gain some younger audiences with soft sex scenes. The two remain respectful and reverent of each other throughout the film however, and it did not go unnoticed to this viewer. Tip of the cap to you, Mr. Howard.
Fast-forward through a harsh winter of fending for themselves, and Shannon’s family traveling to Boston in search for her, they become separated; Shannon back with her family, Joseph back on his own. Eight months later Joseph’s vigor to seek out his own land is sparked again by the sight of covered wagons making the long trip out west. He drops what he’s doing, tags along and heads off to the great Oklahoma land grab. Here he runs into Shannon again, only now she is joined by Stephen Chase (Thomas Gibson), the manage of Mr. Christie’s estate. Stephen has promised Shannon all the wonder and spectacle of new land in America, and is hoping for her hand in marriage.
The end of this film, from the cannon fire at the start of the land grab to the final stake in the ground, is one of my favorite’s in all of film. There is something for everyone to love. If you hadn’t been rooting for Joseph already, you will be by this time. Joseph realizes his dream and has the opportunity to stake his own land. Land which his father, on his death bed, told him was “man’s very own soul.” What is a man’s soul though, without a soul-mate? Joseph, stake in hand, looks upon Shannon and is hit with the fact that all this land means nothing without her. God made woman for man as his “helper” (Gen. 2:18). This is not a subservient role, as the same term is used to describe God in Psalms 155:9-11. Rather, this is the concept of an ideal partner, an opposite and corresponding match. Joseph would have been lonely and incomplete with all that land, but without Shannon. A happy ending indeed then for Joseph, who finds that the thing which will complete him and bring him happiness was not that which he was striving for all these months, but the one person who was right in front of him for so long.
My Rating: 3.5/5
I feel like the issues I have with this movie are kind of nit-picky, but there are a lot of them. There are moments when Cruise’s accent slips between Irish and American. This occurs throughout the movie, not just after he’d been in America a while. The score for the film, particularly with the opening scenes in Ireland, strangely reminded me of Karate Kid… weird, right? Like they were using wooden flutes when they should’ve been using bagpipes. While Cruise and Kidman do a wonderful job, Thomas Gibson and Colm Meaney hold their own, but almost the entire rest of the supporting cast acts as though they’re reading their lines from a script. The only interactions that seemed natural were those between Cruise and Kidman. And for a film trying to be an epic tale, it missed a lot of opportunities to shed even just a little light on the ills of the country at the time. For example, 70 years prior to the land grab the 5 major Native American tribes were kicked off their original lands and moved out to the Oklahoma territory, only now to have that land purchased from them for just over $1 an acre (by force or not, I’m not sure) and given to the one who can race there first. Yet there is no mention of any of this plight. There are other small things that keep me from really engulfing myself into this from start to finish. It’s decent though. I think most people could find something they like in it and, like I said, the ending is excellent!
Joseph, to his brothers: “There’s a goat over there. Go improve your life life.”
Joseph: “These people Shannon, they’re my kind of people. And my kind doesn’t like your kind.”
Mike Kelly, to Joseph: “Well now, you knocked the piss out of the man that knocked the piss outta me. I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
Shannon: “She’s got an awful large chest to be going to church.” Joseph “Shannon, all chests are equal in the sight of the Lord.”
Joseph: “This land is mine! Mine by destiny!”