The Caveman's Valentine

View Date: March 31st, 2001

Cast :

Samuel L. Jackson Romulus
Colm Feore Leppenraub
Ann Magnuson Moira
Damir Andrei Arnold
Aunjanue Ellis Lulu
Tamara Tunie Sheila
Peter MacNeill Cork
Jay Rodan Joey
Rodney Eastman Matthew
Anthony Michael Hall Bob

Writer: George Dawes Green 

Director: Kasi Lemmons 

In only two films, director Kasi Lemmons has established herself as an effective analyst on the effects of simple decisions on simple life events, and how those decisions can have complex results.  She has shown the ability to take a conventional tale and weave in interesting characters and visuals to create a powerful story with a message.  In Eveís Bayou, she took a simple tale of family strife and by her characterizations and dialogue created a complexity that made a bold statement.  In her sophomore effort, she tackles a much more complex but still familiar premise. The Cavemanís Valentine delves into the psyche of a man who has chosen to isolate himself from a world that will not leave him alone.  She adds in a story of a who done it, to wrestle the demons which exist in the mind of her main character, and while the movie works best when this battle is the focus, she does end up falling prey to conventional Hollywood storytelling, and stumbling a bit in the conclusion.  Still, when the film works, it is a haunting tale of the visualization and rationalization of madness in world where we all search for our own form of love and definition of reality.

Romulus Ledbetter is a man who believes that the man, known as Stuyvesant, is trying to keep him down.  As a result, the Julliard trained pianist has retreated to a cave in a New York park, prone to wild rants, believing that the omnipotent Stuyvesant controls the whole world.  In doing so, he has abandoned a wife, a daughter, a promising career, reality, and his sanity.  He believes that Stuyvesant lives in a building that no matter where Romulus is is always present, and bathes him a light when heís being watched.  Of course, only he can see these things, but everyone can see his reactions, which cause him to be looked as insane by most who see him.  He is also tormented by demons in his mind, shown as choreographed dancing figures which move in rhythmic but uncoordinated movements to show how the madness affects and afflicts him.  Amidst all this existence, reality barges into Romulusís world when he discovers a frozen body in the tree outside of his ďhomeĒ.  This leads to him trying to convince the police, of which his daughter is a member, that he knows who killed the young man.  Finally, adding to the complexity of things, is Romís friend, who knew the young man, and also knows who killed him, leading to a very famous photographer, whom of course, Rom thinks is a pawn of Stuyvesant.  The story follows the typical who-done-it phases with the police not wanting to believe the words of a madman over a celebrity, and Rom trying to convince them while attempting to hang on to his sanity through it all.  Lemmons keeps enough of an edge to things to keep the film from falling into just another murder mystery, but does lose steam when Jacksonís rants and sanity begin to come to balance, submitting to a typical story line in the conclusion.

This is indeed Jacksonís time to shine, and he truly does.  He is one of my favorite actors, and has shown his flexibility in his style of characters as well hairdos.  This time, as a societal outcast who is searching for right in a world that he believes has wronged him, Jackson balances the madness and sensibility of things in a manner that few actors could have.  He is just at home in the spotlight, as he is supporting others, and this is his best role in years.  The voice that always inspires intimidation and fear works once again, only few listen and believe him that only seem to fuel him on even more.  Jackson is simultaneously frightening, insane, sympathetic and determined, very few actors could pull this off, and he is one of them.  His supporting cast, with Tunie, another Bayou carryover along with Jackson, Colm Feore (Red Violin, and the haunting presence in the otherwise forgettable Storm of The Century) and even a very-grown up Anthony Michael-Hall, are all acceptable but exist mainly to support and carry Jackson through the various facets of the story.

Ultimately, Cavemanís Valentine succeeds in infusing new blood into a quickly dying genre, but still falls prey to its conventions in the end. In a genre that has been beaten into submission by repetition and conformity, this one is successful when Lemmons allows the focus to be on the participants rather than the event.  She does stumble through points, showing her attempt to balance her creative touch with conventional conformity but Jacksonís performance alone is worthy of a viewing and almost makes the faults secondary and worth sitting through just to see. ($$$ out of $$$$)

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