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Always
1989 - PG - 106 Mins.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Steven Spielberg
Written By: Jerry Belson
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Brad Johnson, John Goodman and Audrey Hepburn
Review by: Bill King
   

Audrey Hepburn in her final role
"Always" is a fitting finale to one of Hollywood's most endearing stars. I prefer not to view this movie as a pet project for Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, even though it is, but as Audrey Hepburn's farewell to the camera. When she signed on for the small role of Hap, she was already heavily involved in her charity work, most notably as UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador. It was her first feature film since "They All Laughed" in 1981. She did a television movie called "Love Among Thieves" (1987), but by this time, her acting took a backseat to more important causes. Seeing Hepburn in "Always," as the angelic presence who guides Dreyfuss' character into the afterlife, is an opportunity to witness one last time how she could light up the screen with little effort. That lovely voice, so unchanged since she wanted "...to sit at a sidewalk café, look in shop windows, walk in the rain" in "Roman Holiday," is so familiar it adds a touch of poignancy to her scenes. In fact, she ends up snatching our attention away from Dreyfuss.

Spielberg could have cast anybody as Hap. He did right by choosing Hepburn, but the movie had been in the back of his mind for a long time. The story was originally made as "A Guy Named Joe" in 1943. Spielberg and screenwriter Jerry Belson tinkered with the original story to give it a more contemporary feel. Richard Dreyfuss stars as Pete Sandich, a hotshot pilot who puts out forest fires by releasing a dousing agent from his plane. His girlfriend is Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter). She works in the control tower situated on their little airfield.

During a particularly difficult blaze, Pete's plane explodes in mid-air, right in front of his partner Al (John Goodman). The fire is out, and while Pete walks through the charred forest, he sees a small clearing with Hap standing there. It takes a few minutes for him to realize that he's dead. Before he goes to Heaven, he must pass his knowledge on to a younger pilot, not necessarily by teaching him directly, but by serving as an inspiration. He's invisible to humans, but he can suggest words or actions. He is sent back to earth a year later, to mentor his protégé Ted Baker (Brad Johnson), an up-and-coming pilot at Al's airfield, which he now runs. Dorinda has moved on, but she comes back when Al convinces her that her services are better suited to fire fighting.

Pete enjoys giving guidance to the young pilot, and he has some fun with him too. He even tries to help him out with dating, by encouraging Ted to say or do certain things. As the days go by, he sees Ted making progress, but another development ensues. Ted starts seeing Dorinda, which is too much for Pete. Even in death, he still has strong feelings for her, and the fact that he can never have another chance with her saddens him.

Spielberg plays this material fairly straightforwardly. It doesn't have the powerful dramatic push of some of his better movies like The Color Purple, but this is still a competent production. The firefighting scenes are technically impressive, the humor works well and the premise is imaginative. I don't think Spielberg fully explores the possibilities of such a scenario, though. As a ghost given the opportunity to provide inspiration, Pete only briefly explains to Ted the value of life. That's an interesting way for the film to progress, but it quickly pulls back and continues with its narrative. I know Pete's purpose was to pass on his knowledge of firefighting to a young pilot, but there's always room for improvement.

All things considered, "Always" is notable for Hepburn's final performance. As the angel Hap, she comes across as a gentle spirit concerned with Pete's final journey. Even without her presence, this is still a good film, even if lacking in some areas. Spielberg needed someone who could play a kindly angel convincingly and Audrey Hepburn had plenty of practice.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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