Mrs. Soffel
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 1999
I love the steely, snowy look of this movie, and its bizarre, infinitely compelling love story. Diane Keaton, one of the best screen actresses ever, here portrays a woman who is teetering on madness; that we never really know her state of sanity or Mel Gibson's true intentions only adds to the mystery and desperateness of the story, which by all accounts is true. The warmth of the warden's home, at Christmastime no less, contrasted with the chill of the Pittsburgh snow and the brutality contained within that prison, is remarkably effective. Gillian Armstrong directs like a painter with a brush, and every scene contains a stark beauty. I thought the chemistry between Gibson and Keaton was electric. Mark Isham's spare and original score punctuates the tragedy and isolation in these characters in a very effective way; it is a musical score that never panders or overstates, but quietly does the trick. It is not a classic film, but it does pull you along, and there are plenty of wise choices along the way. If you do not mind taking an emotional journey without an uplift, this is for you.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2000
Mrs. Soffel is a dark, compelling movie set in a Pittsburg prison in 1901. Diane Keaton plays a warden's wife, desperate for hope and pleasure within the prison walls. Mel Gibson and Matthew Modine play the Biddle brothers - two young men who are sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit. The gloomy landscape is also a major character in this movie - accentuating the hopelessness of the characters that inhabit this film. I was affected by the bond that grew between Keaton and Gibson as Mrs. Soffel (played by Keaton) entreats Ed Biddle (played by Gibson) on the need for prayer and preparation for death. As they spend more time with each other, they spend less time talking about death and more about love and hope. She assists in his escaping, and the movie takes off from there. Diane Keaton is my absolutely favorite actress; honesty pervades every move in all her roles. Mel Gibson is an actor I largely ignored; however, after seeing this film I recommend he play more seriously romantic roles. The sexual and emotional attachment between these two characters was intense. I wish I could have changed the ending in this love story. After seeing Mrs. Soffel, I am interested in learning more about the actual woman who boldly escaped from her own repressive environment to follow her heart.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2001
Yet ANOTHER film to add to my favorite list of films! Could Diane Keaton be any more appealing and exquisite?!?!?! This beautiful movie deserves much MORE credit than it got! On a basic note, this movie is about a prison warden's wife, Kate Soffel, who meets and falls in love with a prisoner, Ed Biddle, on death row. Of course, that's very intriguing because how can two people on total opposite sides of life be together? I cannot say how emotional I was at the ending. It's impossible to sum up this exceptional movie in a few words. More or less, this story only applies to every person who have experienced true love, but also felt pain. Despite the conditions, the lovers manage to find a way to be together forever, and that's true love in its purest. The landscape, winter, contributes to the emptiness and instability of Kate and her husband's marriage, and the violet poem contributes to the youth and beauty of Kate and Ed's doomed, but beautiful relationship. It strikes your emotional chords at very opportune times, and it also gets you thinking about love back in the 1900's and the real Kate Soffel. Simply remarkable.I cannot put any of the words I'm thinking about the movie in clarification- I am telling this abstractly and undefined, because it's the way I felt. I felt the way I felt, and this is the best I can do. I am still emotionally attached to this movie, and of course, no clear explanations come with emotions. I have to admit, I found the ending S A D and unpredictable. It still brings tears to my eyes whenever I think of it. It's beautiful and painful. When Kate felt pain at the very ending, I also felt pain, too, for the doomed lovers. It's just so sad. I found the very last minutes striking. A voice sounding out lines from the violet poem while the camera looms down and swoops past prison cells... "A little violet from across the way came to cheer a lonely prisoner in his cell one day...." and from there, unfolds the heartbreaking story of Kate Soffel and Ed Biddle. DO N O T MISS IT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2002
Mrs. Soffel (Diane Keaton) is based on the true story of a emotionally starved Mother of three. Her prison warden husband is not unsypathetic, but hasn't a clue as to what she's feeling.
Her daily routine of reading the Bible to the inmates can no
longer fulfill her emotional void...that is until the day she encounter's the new, guilt-in-question, death row inmates Jack Matthew Modine) and Ed (Mel Gibson) Biddle.
Rules of society were strict in 1901, but with death at stake, Ed Biddle begins a methodical plan to seduce the warden's wife to help them escape.
Black and White turn grey when it comes to just who is seducing who. Once the Biddle's escape the confines of their cells, it is Ed(Gibson)who doesn't want to leave "Kate" behind.
After the breakout is discovered the next morning, it seems only a Sheriff with a mind that can think the "unthinkable" suspects the warden's wife has escaped with the two deathrow inmates and not as their hostage...
On the run, Kate and Ed's passion grow until most certainly, one feels death is the only thing that can break them apart.
Mark Isham's dark film score is perfect. Who would have imagined Keaton and Gibson paired? Up until this movie, I had chalked
Gibson up to a pretty face with not much depth, BUT...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mrs. Soffel, 1984. This dark and gritty 112 minute romantic melodrama is a prime example of the wonderful pictures made by Hollywood in the 1980s. The movie is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1901, still repressive Victorian times, and recounts a true story that then shocked society. (And quite likely still would.)

Kate Soffel (Diane Keaton) is married to stuffy Warden Peter Soffel, (Edward Herrmann), of Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Jail, then as now, a handsome structure designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson. (Constructed between 1884-88, it was a jail until 1995; is now used by juvenile and family courts.) Mrs. Soffel regularly creeps around her husband's jail, attempting to reform the convicts. Feminists must believe she is unhappy, and unfulfilled; middle-class women with a servant or two hadn't much to do in those days. Still, she apparently doesn't know she's unhappy. But, she would then have been called a "neurasthenic:" a nervous, anxious, often depressed middle-class woman who vents her unhappiness in mysterious illnesses. (Kate is just coming off a three month layup as the film opens.) However, on her rounds she meets the dangerously attractive working class death row murderer Ed Biddle (Mel Gibson), a young man who claims he's been wrongly convicted. She is reborn, helps him and his brother escape, and flees with them.

The film, which was written by Ron Nyswaner (PHILADELPHIA), and directed by the Australian Gillian Armstrong (MY BRILLIANT CAREER), was, inexplicably, neither a critical nor a commercial success at its release. Viewers apparently hated the beautifully presented, dark look of turn of the century Pittsburgh, but that's historically accurate: the city was one of the earliest exemplars of the Industrial Revolution on this continent - you can see the smoke stacks belching dark--and paid for it in environmental degradation. The city fathers had to keep the street lights burning 24/7. The film also doesn't do a lot of explaining: it never really tells us just how guilty the Biddle brothers were, makes no moral judgments on the love affair at its heart.

The cast of this crime drama is superb. Keaton carries it with a complex, many-layered portrait of a woman initially as imprisoned as the men in her husband's jail. She was already an Oscar-winner for her famous Annie Hall, made with her former lover at the time, Woody Allen; she made a slew of other comedies with Allen, too. But she was an important character in The Godfather Collection , and made Reds with her later lover Warren Beatty. There's no question but that she's got movie star voltage, and a thousand watt smile that lightens and tenderizes her material. The young Australian-American Gibson was beautiful; the camera often lingers lovingly on him, and, as he had recently made the terrific anti-war movie Gallipoli, and the fine The Year of Living Dangerously, he still had a lot of credibility, which the Lethal Weapon: 4 Film Favorites series had not yet begun to damage. As the warden, Edward Herrmann, who worked with Keaton on REDS, gives us another of his clueless upper-class gentlemen. As Ed Biddle's brother Jack, Matthew Modine, (The Dark Knight Rises,Transporter 2), gives us a good picture of a younger brother not always happily in thrall to an elder, forced to be a voyeur at his brother's romance with the warden's wife. Detective Buck McGovern was played by Terry O'Quinn. And, as one of the prison guards, we have the recently-passed Canadian supporting actor Maury Chaykin, with his sharp comic timing,(My Cousin Vinny).

The director ably uses the comic timing of all her principals in telling her dark tale. Furthermore, Armstrong and her cinematographer Russell Boyd give us beautifully composed, but oppressive visions of Pittsburgh. Then crisp scenes of a train journey through snow, filmed in Michigan. And joyous-in-their-own-way scenes of the manhunt for the fleeing trio; all horses and horse-drawn carriages, filmed on the fresh snow of Elura, Ontario, Canada, where a very old, closed, unused bridge was refurbished for the movie, and now serves as a pedestrian bridge. This powerful film also can take you to another place: you know you need to see it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2000
This masterpiece should have been nominated for every Oscar possible! It was so brilliant I almost died. When Gibby read that poem about the violet, my eyes nearly popped out because I was crying so hard. It is the greatest movie ever made (after Mr. Frost with the phenomenal Jeff "The Fly" Goldblum).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2004
Diane Keaton gives a remarkable and haunting performance as Mrs. Keaton. Her character stays with you long after the movie's end. Simply brilliant!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2001
This movie is one of the best dark romantic movies that I have ever seen. A woman (Diane Keaton)who is not happily married finds renewal in life and for the first time in life falls in love with a prison inmate (Mel Gibson). She realizes how much she loves him and he realizes how much he loves her and their only wish in life is for God to allow them to be together. I don't want to ruin the movie by telling too much but, if you get this your getting a great movie full of love, lust, action, religion and a journey over feelings and how you must follow them to be happy. This movie reminds me of the dark romantic tale Romeo and Juliet.
Charlie
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2014
I purchased this movie for my sister and because my mom knew all about this story before I even watched it the first time. I believe my mom told us that her mother, my grandmother knew Mrs. Soffel, and since my mom has just passed it holds a special place in our hearts!!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 1999
I bought this video because I wanted to complete my collection of everything Mel Gibson has ever made. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. People who think it is slow have to realize how repressed the times were, and how repressed Mrs. Soffel herself was. The darkness and slow pace reflect Mrs. Soffel's spiritual and personal emptiness and depression. In the movie, she has just recovered from a three month bout of intense depression. Ed Biddle himself has barely escaped a suicide attempt, and talks continuously of his own death. Both these people are desperately unhappy and lonely. They turn to one another in their desperation and cling to one another for what they both know is just a brief, brief time, one last futile attempt to grasp some beauty and truth and meaning in their lives. I found the character of Ed Biddle to be richly contradictory and complicated. He was a very confused and lonely person. So was Mrs. Soffel. Their flight from their own emptiness is so poignant and sad, I don't see how anyone could fail to be touched by this movie.
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