Seemingly lost in the haze of an outstanding career, "Chattahoochee" is a largely forgotten film in the resume of Gary Oldman. Though it had the right ingredients for success, it doesn't take long to figure out why the film isn't often mentioned when Oldman is being discussed. To be as blunt as can be, "Chattahoochee" is chock full of ideas, but none contain depth.
One day, Emmett Foley (Oldman) just snaps. The devoted husband and father randomly starts shooting up the neighborhood with hopes that his eventually suicide will instead appear as a murder and his wife (Frances McDormand) will reap the benefits of the insurance. Instead, his suicide fails and he is sent to the Florida State Hospital in "Chattahoochee," a mental ward in which the patients are mistreated by the doctors and staff. There he forms bonds with his fellow inmates, especially Walker Benson (Dennis Hopper).
If "Chattahoochee" seems to resemble "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," it's only in its most basic elements: insane asylum, patients, doctors, mistreatment, guy who doesn't belong. The similarities end there, as do any hopes of "Chattahoochee" being anywhere near "Cuckoo's Nest" level. The problems are endless for this misstep of a film, so much so that not even a trio of talent actors can save it.
The most fatal flaw of "Chattahoochee" is its failure to create wholesome characters. Not one of the subjects is more than a simple sketch. Any kind of development is nonexistent. No one, including the filmmakers, seems to know who the characters are now never mind who they were that led them to the point they're at. There is an overall feeling that the film features segments of a life more so than a story of a complete product. Obviously, it's hard to form any connection whatsoever with the characters and sympathy even becomes a stretch. For a film that focuses mostly on the mistreatment of the patients, lacking a sense of caring is a crippling blow.
What may be most unfortunate is how the script restricts Oldman. Predictably enough, Oldman showcases all the raw, powerful emotion one would expect would come when such a talented actor is in such a challenging role. However, as the character has no real direction, Oldman's moments only happen in spurts. With no real background and a shotty view of the present, Oldman's Emmett gets lost in a riffraff of themes. What should have been an engaging and stirring character instead becomes a jumble of missed opportunities and poor execution. Emmett is simply a creation of the lone, mis-understood yet well-intended stallion that rides in, saves the day, and apparently is capable of working all of his problems out just by becoming a "hero" in the eyes of his minions.
The ineptness in the development of characters doesn't just hinder Oldman's Emmett. Both McDormand's Mae and Hopper's Walker are nothing more than talking shadows. They are sometimes there, but left to remain mysterious. Both characters are woven into a melting pot of themes that never come together. Emmett's past and his marriage to Mae are touched upon, but only briefly. Their sexual problems are only mentioned in passing and the two characters, even in their most vulnerable, never quite seem to connect, which seems ludicrous given the talent in between Oldman and McDormand. Hopper's Walker is nothing more than an ear to talk to and a mouth to listen to. There is no lead-in to the friendship and no build-up either. Finally, religion can't help but poke its head into the frame every so often, but its presence is never substantial enough to be anything more than a confusing derailment to the film's already unclear purpose.
From a technical standpoint, "Chattahoochee" is done no favors. The characters are vague by nature, but matters are made worse by random, misplaced narration which awkwardly tries to dive inside the mind of the characters. The transition from scene-to-scene and the editing in total is clumsy and graceless. An intense, emotional situation may quickly cut away to something less so quite abruptly and resulting in an almost entirely unappealing experience.
There's not a lot of redeeming value in this misfire of a film that plays more like a TV special. If anything, extra points should be awarded to the cast who certainly tried their best to save an otherwise slow, choppy puzzle film, but even then, "Chattahoochee" just isn't so much as mediocre.