September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Richard Gere and his younger brother, played by Kevin (Orphans) Anderson, have tried to run their Iowa farm by the same rigid work ethic that made their late father (Brian Dennehy) a success. But Dennehy’s way no longer applies in the era of economic squeeze. When the bank forecloses on their farm, the brothers torch the place in protest. Now fugitives from the law, Gere and Anderson become heroes to other frustrated farmers. A Rolling Stone cover hails them as “the outlaws of the ’80s.” First-time screenwriter Chris Gerolmo, admittedly influenced by Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album, uses these newly homeless brothers to trace the deterioration of family values. But stage director Gary (True West, Orphans) Sinise, making his film-directing debut, at times betrays the script’s bleak eloquence with inappropriate theatrics. Overdone music (by Robert Folk) and camera work (by Elliot Davis) keep trumpeting the big theme of the American Dream-turned-nightmare. What saves the film is Sinise’s masterful way with actors. Gere brings rare feeling and none of his usual narcissism to the role of a man blinded to the damage he is doing to his hero-worshipping brother. Anderson is just one member of the excellent Chicago Steppen-wolf Theatre Company, which Sinese co-founded and whose performances illuminate the film. These actors include John Malkovich as a cynical reporter, Laurie Metcalf as an exotic dancer and Terry Kinney as an unemployed farmhand. Sinese has made an imperfect film, but not an impersonal one. He is a talent to watch. (R)

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