Always (1989) Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and Audrey Hepburn.
Throughout his illustrious career, Steven Spielberg has often found himself in the sights of sniper critics who claim his work is riddled with a sentimentalism that holds it back. You can look at it that way, or, you could argue that the optimism and humanity he breathes into his work is a key part of the magic that propels his most celebrated offerings. Always, a remake of the 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe, is one of his more divisive films, in that it embraces the perceived sentimentalism with two comforting arms. We’re introduced to Richard Dreyfuss playing Pete, a dare-devil pilot who fights forest fires from the sky. By that description, it reads like something Tony Scott would’ve made for Tom Cruise and Kenny Loggins. But no, at its well-intentioned heart, the film is about the spirit (literally) of romance and love, by way of tragedy.
Co-starring opposite Dreyfuss is a sparky Holly Hunter. Between them, they conjure a good sense of energy and affection for each other in the early scenes, with the quarterback presence of Roseanne-era John Goodman on hand to ensure levity. The film opens with a heart-in-mouth shot of a plane rapidly approaching two fisherman on a lake. It’s a thrilling moment that belies the intentions of the piece. This isn’t the summer entertainment that Speilberg crowds have busted blocks over.
Spielberg’s affection for the message of the original film is evident, and while it isn’t short of warmth, it does rely heavily on us feeling it. There is a love triangle element that stutters due to a vacant performance by Brad Johnson, whose role seems somewhat confined.
There are potent messages here, though. The notion of faith is a romantic one, in itself, so the idea of loved ones guiding us from beyond the grave is a beautiful thing, especially in the hands of a director who knows how to bring our dreams to life, with the help of, as always, composer John Williams.
In a small part that feels huge, Always was to be Audrey Hepburn’s final screen role. Dressed in white (reportedly her own wardrode), there’s a poingnacy as Hepburn plays an angel-like figure guiding Dreyfuss from a place somewhere between life and death. If what is said of her is true, she was simply playing herself.
Considering the greatest hits package that makes up Speilberg’s brilliant resume, it’s unsurprising that Always is widely thought of as an album track. It’s a small picture with a big heart – the kind of film a director gets to make when he’s almost single-handedly created the economy of the multiplex. 3.5/5