Souls on Fire

Beneath the white gloves and Sunday school manners there lies a very different level of the human soul. Consuming, passionate, frequently oblivious to the guiding hand of reason, these souls on fire threaten to singe us all. We look at two films that expertly explore this more primitive side of homo sapiens. Both films are rated R.

Barry Winchell was a soldier stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Calpurnia Addams (not her real name) was a performer at a nearby club. In a film that examines their relationship, "Soldier's Girl" delves into the geography of differences and the fragile nature of acceptance. Addams was a pre-operative transgendered woman. She had completed the transformation from male to female, lacking only the final surgery. Years before she had served as a medic in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. In a heart-rending performance, Lee Pace takes us into the heart of this young woman and through some of the difficulties that she faces during her physical and psychological transformation. Winchell was a sharp-shooter who had been nominated for Soldier of the Month. The tragedy that befalls them is unerringly presented as a tragedy for us all. "Soldier's Girl" is a true story. I will only tell you that the perpetrators of the crime were sent to prison, and that the film handles a complex issue exquisitely.

I have never been a fan of Clint Eastwood. Living in Carmel, California, for so many years I had heard much about the cold-hearted businessman, the ruthless politician, the anti-environmental policies of his real estate developments. But I have to re-evaluate the man in light of his magnificent direction of "Mystic River". This movie does not miss a beat. From the taut editing to the superb cinematography we find a relentless spareness that moves the story along and allows us no wiggle-room. The performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins are outstanding. Marcia Gay Harden and Laurence Fishburne deliver fine supporting roles. I am reminded of the elegant and clean direction by Jane Campion in "The Piano". Like "Solder's Girl", "Mystic River" forces us to take a deep look at what we're really like underneath our civilized veneer. Justice, marital trust, loyalty, a father and his daughter are just a few of the sub-themes that drive this film.Church, marriage and friendship are others. There is not an extraneous moment, from the opening scenes of molestation to the final shot of the roiling river. As I was admiring the music, which was commanding without being intrusive, I learned that the composer was none other than Eastwood himself. Based on a novel by Dennis LeHane, "Mystic River" is a gripping and emotion-packed voyage into the crime genre. It should not be missed.

c.Corinne Whitaker 2004