A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

on September 18, 1998 by Wade Major
After a pair of disappointing, studio-backed misfires, director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant make a glorious return to form with "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," arguably their strongest effort since the back-to-back Oscar-nominated successes of "Howards End" and "Remains of the Day."
Splendidly adapted from Kaylie Jones' acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel by Ivory and longtime collaborator Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" is a mostly episodic character piece centering on the experiences of an American novelist named Bill Willis (Kris Kristofferson) and his family (Barbara Hershey, Leelee Sobieski and Jesse Bradford) while living in Paris and the United States during the '60s and '70s.
Told primarily from the point of view of Willis' daughter Channe (Sobieski), the film is something of a welcome change of pace for the Merchant/Ivory team, a more contemporary and less overtly high-brow work than that with which they are usually associated. Channe's relationship with her French-born adoptive brother Billy (Bradford), her friendship with an eccentric but charismatic schoolmate named Francis (Anthony Roth Costanzo) and the struggles that she and Billy face in reassimilating into American culture after growing up abroad are at the core of a moving and surprisingly accessible family drama.
While Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey must be acknowledged for their exceptional turns as the Willis parents, it is Sobieski who provides the film's emotional core, segueing from the big-budget "Deep Impact" with exceeding grace and polish. No less impressive is the magnificently reserved Bradford ("King of the Hill," "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet"), his warmly stoic presence providing a much-needed emotional anchor and counterbalance to Channe's turbulent coming-of-age.
Elsewhere, the usual Merchant/Ivory "givens" remain splendidly intact, with technical contributions and even the most minor supporting roles (Jane Birkin, Dominique Blanc, Isaac de Bankole) all impeccably beyond reproach. Starring Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey, Leelee Sobieski, Jane Birkin, Dominique Blanc and Jesse Bradford. Directed by James Ivory. Written by James Ivory & Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Produced by Ismail Merchant. An October release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 125 min
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