The War of the Roses

"What fresh hell is this?" asks Kathleen Turner, her eyes bulging with trepidation. No, she's not a film critic still reeling from the claptrap released since Thanksgiving (Harlem Nights, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the soulless sequel to Back to the Future).

Turner is playing Barbara Rose, a neglected wife who wants out of her seventeen-year marriage to her lawyer husband, Oliver (Michael Douglas). There's a catch: Both Roses want to keep the elegant Washington, D.C., house in which they watched their love turn to indifference and then open hatred. Packing their two teenagers off to school, the Roses divide their home into a battle zone.

Under the astute direction of Danny DeVito, who does a sly turn as Oliver's attorney, this acid-dipped epic of revenge is killingly funny and dramatically daring. Turner and Douglas are terrific, delineating the conquest of emotion over reason with chilling exactitude. The Roses aren't likable, but they are recognizably real.

In his second film as a director, following the uneven Throw Momma From the Train, DeVito sharpens every barb in the wily script Michael Leeson has adapted from Warren Adler's novel. Some may recoil at the shocking extremes to which DeVito takes this modern cautionary fable of greed. An epilogue simplistically spells out the moral. It's unnecessary. DeVito triumphs by instilling this caustic satire with truth and consequence.

From The Archives Issue 402: August 18, 1983