Mixing therapy and romance is a no-no in real life, and it proves problematic as well as the subject of “Mr. Jones.” A high-energy performance by Richard Gere and an intensely brooding one from Lena Olin engage attentive viewer interest, but the stars are forced to overcompensate for a rather slow pace and lack of plot. B.O. prospects look moderate for this TriStar release.
The various impulses behind the story — to explore the thin line between professional help and personal assistance in a cure, to focus on the not-uncommon affliction of manic depression, to develop an unusual attraction between opposites — have dramatic potential in theory. But in practice, a great deal of the film consists of Richard Gere’s title character either carrying on in wildly unpredictable ways (manic) or submitting to treatment when his past gets the better of him (depressive). The dramatic structure is simply too weak and predictable to propel the picture on its own.
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Opening scene has the buoyant Jones talking his way into a job at a construction site just so he can tightrope-walk on a high beam. Building is situated on the flight path close to San Diego Airport, which creates some arresting shots of jets practically giving Jones a buzz cut, but also gives rise to the script’s specious metaphor concerning Jones’ desire to fly.
Gere’s cocky charm carries the first half-hour, as Jones, on a manic high, hands out hundred-dollar bills, tests out pianos at a music showroom, has a playful afternoon tryst with a blonde pickup at a fancy hotel and, in an amusingly audacious scene, marches down the aisle at a packed symphony hall in a burst of enthusiasm and shows the conductor a thing or two about conducting Beethoven.
This naturally gets him carted away as a loony. While Jones protests “I’m a kid,” he is diagnosed as a bipolar manic depressive. But he’s soon released, against the wishes of Dr. Libbie Bowen (Olin), who thinks the guy poses a real threat, particularly to himself.
With nothing else going on, screenwriters Eric Roth and Michael Cristofer can do only the predictable — have doctor and patient fall in love. Script warms up the romance very slowly, beginning with embarrassingly innocuous scenes of the pair cavorting at the seaside. Suddenly, Jones takes a dive into depression, which leads to therapy in which Dr. Bowen catches Jonesin lies about his past, as well as to an intimate bond in which the doctor oversteps her ethical and legal bounds.
Scenario’s dramatic progression offers no particular surprises, and many future developments are plainly obvious from the outset: Jones starts out on such a high that his subsequent plunge is inevitable.
Dr. Bowen’s personal loneliness and alienation make her vulnerable to a wild card like Jones, even though she should know better; and the love-conquers-all theme sits squarely within Hollywood convention from the beginning of time.
Still, despite the familiarity of the film’s attitudes and destination, many sequences play rather well on a moment-to-moment basis. Early on, director Mike Figgis and lenser Juan Ruiz Anchia’s constantly roving camera effectively convey the nervous state of the characters, particularly Jones.
There is also a tart, vibrant quality to the dialogue exchanges that make the scenes come alive, although not on a level with Figgis’ previous collaboration with Gere, “Internal Affairs.”
Gere’s effervescence in his manic phase endows the film with an engaging energy, but one can never really see the character and forget the actor.
This is one of Gere’s showiest, most verbal roles, and his enjoyment is contagious in a certain way, but it more often feels like a showcase for Gere’s infrequently seen antic, playful side rather than a penetrating performance.
A different type of thesp entirely, Olin gives a deeply serious reading of an intelligent, somewhat brittle woman who trusts her intuition as much as her logical decisions.
Her soulful introspection and stunning beauty often call to mind her countrywoman Ingrid Bergman, which prompts one to imagine what a great star Olin might have been, and what roles she might have played, had she been around in the 1930s and 1940s.
Lauren Tom has some gripping moments as a suicidal mental patient, and Delroy Lindo weighs in sympathetically as a construction worker who befriends Mr. Jones. Anne Bancroft has a perfunctory role as the head of a psychiatric institution.