Taking Chances

Sitting through Bruno Barreto's Carried Away is a bit like watching someone defuse a bomb. A great deal of your appreciation for what you're seeing is informed by the certainty that, at any moment, the whole thing could have blown up in somebody's face.

Consider the plot: Joseph (Dennis Hopper), a middle-aged schoolteacher and part-time farmer in a rural Midwestern community, has an affair with one of his students, Catherine (Amy Locane), a sexually precocious 17-year-old stunner. Rosealee (Amy Irving), Joseph's longtime sweetheart and fellow teacher, is shattered when she learns of the relationship. Major Wheeler (Gary Busey), a retired Army officer with a penchant for hunting, isn't too wild about the news, either. He's Catherine's father.

Carried Away clearly has the potential to turn into something lurid and predictable. That it's something a great deal more substantial than a squalid shoot-'em-up melodrama is a testament to the people on both sides of the camera.

The very best thing in the movie is Hopper's surprisingly restrained performance. He plays Joseph as a man who has grown too accustomed to living inside himself, too wary of his own feelings. When Joseph responds to Catherine's come-on, Hopper makes it clear that his character isn't propelled merely by raging hormones.

To be more specific about what happens would be to spoil the pleasure of seeing just how Barreto and his players avoid or overturn so many clichs. Amy Irving -- who co-produced the film, and is married to Barreto -- is fearlessly unglamorous and heartbreakingly poignant as Rosealee, a demure widow who's encouraged to transcend her inhibitions by the newly passionate Joseph. It should be noted that Hopper and Irving have a long, full-frontal nude scene in which their characters manage, perhaps for the first time, to be completely free and open and totally at ease with each other. At first, the scene is startling. Then it's richly comical. Then it stops being a scene, and simply is. -- Joe Leydon


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