JT Film Review

125 – The War of the Roses (1989)

The War of the Roses

 4.5/5 stars

Director – Danny DeVito

Cast – Michael Douglas, Katherine Turner, Danny DeVito, Dan Castalenetta


There hasn’t been a darker comedy made about marriage than 1989’s The War of the Roses. It is deliciously evil in its view of love; it would make an awful date-movie (or, to a discerning couple, perhaps a great one). This is essentially the anti-When Harry Met Sally.

Danny DeVito’s brilliantly twisted movie follows the Roses, a married couple whose relationship, for one reason or another, falls apart in dramatic and spectacular fashion. Turner’s character finds herself bored with her status as housewife to a rich business man, while Douglas feels shackled by a wife who doesn’t understand the financial game. When she admits to feeling relieved when he goes to the hospital after suffering a serious heart attack, the tension comes to a head. She files divorce papers, but he digs up an obscure law with the help of his lawyer friend (DeVito), that says he may stay in the house if he wants. They divide the house in half, and start to make each others life hell. It is here that the movie really takes off.

The back and forth between the two slowly builds up, until they are doing absolutely awful things to each other; she locks him in the sauna, so he urinates in a soup she is serving to distinguished friends… he (accidentally) runs over her cat, so she crushes his small foreign car with her truck… and so on and so on. It is a testament to the gradual crescendo brought about by careful direction that we don’t question the increasingly absurd lengths the couple goes through.

The movie is told through the eyes of Danny DeVito’s lawyer character, who tells this story to a client (a silent role played by Dan Castalenetta) who is contemplating divorce. This framing device helps greatly with the tone of the story. If we were shown the “war” after getting to know the Roses we might feel more attached to them. Having the story recited keeps the whole affair at a comfortable arms length. If we were too close to them we would cry, not laugh. Not that there are a huge amount of laughs here, the humour is too dry for that. Like the best of British comedy, it’s really too good laugh at.


The War of the Roses is a darkly comic movie, well acted and directed. It may come across as bitter toward the concept of marriage, but it really is against couples who don’t fight to keep their marriage, and instead fight to get the better deal after the relationship. It does this in an endearingly twisted way.

Douglas and Turner’s third outing together (after the Romancing the Stone movies) is a great way to end their on-screen pairing. I definitely recommend this to anyone who can enjoy a bit of dark comedy.



 “The War of the Roses” on other websites:

 IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



August 24, 2011 - Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. My only problem with your review is that you kept referring to Kathleen Turner as “Hepburn”. Otherwise, your review brought back some fond (?) memories of the film. I loved the ending. OK, maybe love is the wrong word…

    Comment by pd1248 | August 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Oh my God, I did. Embarrassing much… lol. Thanks! Changing that now.

      Comment by jamesturpin | August 25, 2011 | Reply

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