For Jayne Mansfield’s Car, Billy Bob Thornton has assembled a superb cast and given them a truly terrible script to perform. Thornton writes, directs, and stars as Skip Caldwell, who lives in a tiny Alabama town circa 1969 with his father, Jim (Robert Duvall), a man more interested in viewing dead bodies at car wreck sites than bonding with Skip or his younger son (Kevin Bacon), an embittered Vietnam vet. When Jim’s ex-wife dies, her husband, Kingsley (John Hurt), and his two children (Ray Stevenson and Francis O’Connor) bring her body back from England for burial. All the men in this male-centric movie are obsessed with military service, and argue endlessly over whose war experience was hardest. There are monologues aplenty, including a nearly 10-minute one by Thornton, but the language always sounds like movie-talk, or worse, like a student play inspired by Tennessee Williams. Although Thornton and co-writer Tom Epperson are clearly trying to get to some essential truth about the ways in which machismo hinders love, their insights are scattered and pedestrian. Thornton’s passion is evident, but everyone else is faking it. It hardly seemed possible, but even Duvall gives a bad performance.
Billy Bob ThorntonRobert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, Ray Stevenson, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Patrick, Shawnee Smith, Frances O'Connor, Tippi Hedren, Marshall AllmanTom EppersonAnchor Bay Films