Doctor Michael Reynolds (Woody Harrelson) seems to have it all: a successful life, a happy and loving family, and he's reached somewhere near the top of his profession, but one day he meets someone who will make him think twice about how privileged he is. This is the teenage criminal Brandon Monroe (Jon Seda) who has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer in his lungs, but is not letting that hold him back from disruptive and obnoxious behaviour. Yet what nobody except the boy knows is that he has a plan born of reading a book of spirituality he found in the prison library: on overhearing Reynolds say there's no hope for him, he puts that escape into action.
This was the last movie directed by one of Hollywood's great weirdos, Michael Cimino, who had won great acclaim for The Deer Hunter and promptly frittered all that goodwill by his bizarre behaviour on the set of Heaven's Gate, which lost a huge amount of money and became a watchword for waste, all of which was blamed squarely on him. Despite this, he did manage to get hired for other jobs afterwards, and The Sunchaser was his final effort aside from a brief short as part of an anthology film over ten years later. But apart from that, this was the end of the line for Cimino, largely thanks to the production losing around thirty million dollars at the U.S. box office.
It seemed he couldn't catch a break, and nobody in the nineteen-nineties wanted this brand of hippy dippy self-actualisation that was better suited to the seventies, in a Billy Jack movie or some other similar relic of those days. Not that the nineties was all about dedicated pragmatism, this was the era the conspiracy theory truly came into its own, after all, but this looked decidedly out of step unless you had bought its brand of New Age mysticism hook, line and sinker. We're supposed to believe Brandon, or Blue as he is nicknamed, is somehow far more in touch with the essence of the universe than Reynolds because he is half-Navajo and his doctor drives around in a Porsche.
Aside from being somewhat patronising to an entire group of American Indians, the film's faith in its ability to be very deep about some very vague issues did it no favours either. When Blue kidnaps the doc and forces him at gunpoint to drive to Arizona (starting from the hospital in California) he does absolutely nothing to endear himself to the audience, even if he does have a serious illness, and that lack of sympathy was felt throughout the whole story, damagingly so. Whenever the doctor, who is supposed to be the bad guy in this scenario, has the temerity to point out if you have a deadly condition the best place for you is a hospital, or at least under some kind of medical supervision the film shoots him down in flames, even introducing Anne Bancroft to spout anti-science bullshit as a hippy traveller who picks them both up on a desert road.
This wilful ignorance stuck in the craw throughout and was seemingly aimed at those who are convinced the power of a healing crystal can work wonders that chemotherapy cannot. The way Cimino played into the hands of alternative "medicine" hucksters would have been aggravating enough, but he also forgot to give us a reason to be invested in Blue's flight to freedom to die in the way he wants, that was on a mountain as set out by his grandfather. When a twist threatens to make this a shade more interesting as the fugitive may not be on the solid spiritual ground he wanted Reynolds to believe, this was dropped within seconds to return to the airy-fairy quasi-religious rubbish that thankfully was rejected by audiences back in 1996. As a road movie, both participants were too much of a turn-off to care what they did after a long two hours, but the statement that Reynolds may have ruined his professional career - which could have saved hundreds of lives - in favour of selfishly "finding himself" was highly insulting. Music by Maurice Jarre (with a really odd song choice, heard twice).
One of the most controversial directors to emerge from the burst of American talent of the nineteen-seventies. None of those directors had a totally easy ride from the critics or public, but he seemed to suffer the most, having started out moving from advertising to writing scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force. Once Clint Eastwood noted his promise, he hired him to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which some still believe is his best effort thanks to Eastwood reining him in. But next was The Deer Hunter, an Oscar-garlanded Vietnam War drama that the world responded to far better than any before, and he had his pick of projects.
Alas, this success went to his head and he became increasingly unbalanced, as the horror stories from his next movie Heaven's Gate would show, a huge flop that still divides opinion on its merits to this day. Cimino resurfaced with Year of the Dragon, a Mickey Rourke cop vehicle tainted by racism, and The Sicillian, an unpopularly benevolent view of an Italian crime lord. The Desperate Hours was a remake laughed off the screen in most places, and his last feature was spiritual drama The Sunchaser, barely seen in cinemas. He was discussing new projects to the end, but it seems his ego continually sabotaged his undoubted talent.