Flesh and Bone: Steven (Fabulous Baker Boys) Kloves Second Film, Starring Meg Ryan

Flesh and Bone is the second movie by Steven Kloves, a young director who made an impressive debut in 1989 with The Fabulous Baker Boys.

His new film, which he also wrote, suffers from two major shortcomings: the narrative is derivative, and Meg Ryan, who is the protagonist, is miscast.

In style, Flesh and Bone could be described as a noirish modern Western that draws heavily on the work of playwright Sam Shepard (say Fool for Love). The yarn deals with blood ties and the inevitable impact of parents on their children. Centering on the relationship between a crooked father (James Caan) and his son (Dennis Quaid), the story has the gloom and doom tone of a modern Greek tragedy.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Flesh and Bone and My Life use the same narrative structure. Both begin with their protagonists as children, in the early l960s, then jump ahead 30 years to the present. And both movies revolve around mythic, intergenerational tales of fathers and sons.

I am in favor of actors stretching their skills, but so far, Meg Ryan has been more adept at comedy (When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle) than in drama. Ryan’s accent here is inconsistent and she lacks the depth that, say, Michelle Pfeiffer, would have brought to the role of an orphaned woman, victimized by her past–and by herself.

On the other hand, after almost a decade of giving indifferent performances, Dennis Quaid proves that his range is quite wide. As the haunted son, who had witnessed the murder of Ryan’s family and now needs to redeem his family name, Quaid gives his best performance to date.

I am favorably predisposed toward movies set in the hinterland or Wild West, perhaps because the first movies I had seen as a child were John Ford-John Wayne Westerns. But the fascination with such a locale is also based on the belief that in myth and reality the West continues to be one of the uniquely American experiences.

Kloves is young and, besides, second pictures often prove problematic for directors who have made stunning debuts– Soderbergh has still not recovered from the success of his first feature, sex, lies and videotape. A talent like Kloves, who was responsible for Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Bridges’ best work (in Fabulous Baker Boys) will be making good pictures in the future.