St. Louis Blues
Sometimes a movie makes me so upset I have trouble writing a review about it. Heart of the Beholder had that kind of effect on me. This impressive but disturbing drama, based on a true story, describes events that resulted in tremendous loss for a family just trying to live the American Dream back in the 1980s. It’s a compelling tale of bad things happening to good people.
After Mike and Diane Howard (Matt Letscher and Sarah Brown) open the first videocassette rental store in St. Louis, Missouri, their company grows into a multi-million dollar chain of video stores. Working hard and enjoying their success, the happy couple have no inkling of serious problems to come. When a religious organization called the Citizens for Decency asks the Howards to stop renting a movie titled Hail Mary, they agree in order to avoid confrontation with the group. However, it’s a very different story when the CFD comes back requesting the removal of an entire list of other “objectionable” films including Splash, Blazing Saddles, and Mr. Mom.
I know what you’re thinking: What in the world could be objectionable about Splash? “It’s about bestiality,” complains a CFD supporter. “Tom Hanks has sex with a fish,” she declares angrily.
Not surprisingly, the Howards refuse to remove these movies. Adding fuel to the fire, their stores are the only ones in St. Louis carrying Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.
Egged on by the CFD, an ambitious prosecutor brings obscenity charges against the Howards, who face demonstrations in front of their stores as well as threats against their daughter’s life. Although winning in court, Mike and Diane lose everything because of the negative publicity surrounding this case. They eventually have to declare bankruptcy. As the put-upon husband and wife, Letscher (Identity) and Brown (TV’s As the World Turns) deliver first-rate performances. Letscher exudes an Aaron Eckhart type of appeal, even in his darkest scenes, and Brown, who’s perfected what Spencer Tracy called the art of “reaction,” projects a strong screen presence.
Written and directed by Ken Tipton (the man who lived the story behind the film), Heart of the Beholder is at its best in the final sequences showing how Mike discovers an unexpected enemy, then pulls himself out of the depths of despair to exact a special kind of revenge.
Despite the unsettling nature of this movie, it needed to be made -- and I commend producer Darlene Lieblich for her belief in the film’s important subject matter. For more information about Heart of the Beholder go to www.Beholder.com.
(DVD or VHS copies of Heart of the Beholder can be ordered at http://www.customflix.com/206725.)
Released by River City Entertainment and Catchlight Films; not rated by MPAA.