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The Caveman's Valentine
Cast: Romulus Ledbetter (Samuel L. Jackson), David Leppenraub (Colm Feore), Moira Leppenraub (Ann Magnuson), Arnold (Damir Andrei), Officer Lulu Ledbetter (Aunjanue Ellis), Sheila Ledbetter (Tamara Tunie), Cork (Peter MacNeill)
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Theatrical release: 03/02/2001
DVD Date: 07/17/2001
Running Time: 106 minutes
Note(s): Based on the novel The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green.
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Review: The Caveman's Valentine has been on my to-watch list for quite some time now. It's about time I got around to it! The movie is an adaptation of the Edgar Award-winning first novel by George Dawes Green, published in 1994.
Samuel L. Jackson stars as Romulus Ledbetter, a former piano prodigy who attended the Juilliard School, and can still compose and play, but who now suffers from what seems to be a multitude of mental illnesses and lives in a shelter made of rocks, a "cave", in a Manhattan park. Called the Caveman by those who know him on the street, one day he finds the frozen body of a 20-year-old man perched in a tree outside his cave. He recognizes the man as someone who had written "Help Me" on a sidewalk poster promoting the art of photographer David Leppenraub, known for his works of depicting human suffering. Believing there to be a connection between Leppenraub and the dead man, but with no one -- not even his daughter, a police officer -- believing him, he sets out to prove that the young man was murdered and didn't simply die of exposure, as the authorities suspect.
Samuel L. Jackson's performance is brilliant in The Caveman's Valentine, but the same can't be said of the murder mystery plot. It seems to me this is more the fault of the screenwriter and director rather than the material on which it is based. From the screenwriter, the "whodunit" aspect isn't well developed; in fact, most viewers will have figured out who the culprit is well before the half-way point -- and they'd be right. They could even guess at the motive -- and likely be right again. In addition, there are far too many leaps of faith required on the part of the viewer in how the story progresses. I found myself mentally asking all sorts of questions as to how one scene led into another without something really important -- or at the very least, really credible -- happening in-between. I'm guessing these lapses would have been dealt with properly in the book, but are simply glossed over in the movie ... in favor of showing some mind-altering visuals intended to reflect the state of Romulus' being. And that's where the director fails. He seems so enamored with these scenes that much of the continuity of the story is sacrificed. We know Romulus has delusions, and not knowing when he's being rational and when he's not should have been a part of the story. Instead, we're hit over the head ... repeatedly ... with visuals to indicate Romulus is going through one of his irrational episodes. To be fair, though, the director tries to put the story back on solid ground during these scenes by inserting a number of tender (though imagined) conversations between Romulus and his wife.
Kind of a mixed review for me. I enjoyed the performances, Jackson's in particular, though really all the supporting cast were first rate as well, but the movie as a mystery left me somewhat disappointed. I would have appreciated more time spent on developing and maintaining a suspenseful environment for the viewer and less on recreating the psychotic episodes inside Jackson's character's head.
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