Barbra Streisand has performed a minor miracle, of sorts, with "Prince of Tides." As a director, she has extracted from Nick Nolte the best performance of his career.
Nolte has always done well, but here he is required to be more than one-dimensional. He responds with a performance that is admirable in all areas.
So is the film. Streisand, who also stars in the film, is a bit self-indulgent in the love scenes, but in all other respects this is a splendid movie version of an excellent novel.
Pat Conroy wrote the novel. He also co-authored the script, and he has managed to include all the novel's salient points. The film is never as lyrical as the book, but for movie making, it is lyrical enough. It is unlikely that any other director or scriptwriter could do any better with this assignment.
Nolte portrays Tom Wingo, a high-school teacher living in South Carolina who is having trouble with his marriage. He finds it difficult to tell his wife that he loves her.
When his mother tells him that his sister, an emotionally fragile young woman, has attempted suicide and has been hospitalized in New York, Wingo heads there and meets the psychiatrist who is treating his sister.
Wingo and the psychiatrist begin their relationship on a professional level. Later, it becomes personal -- he falls in love with her and she with him.
She, too, is married, but her husband, an overbearing snob, is cheating on her. That, apparently, justifies her behavior with Wingo, and before long they are in bed.
They're not using each other. They clearly love each other, but they know what is going to happen. When it does, ''The Way We Were,'' the classic film Streisand did with Robert Redford, comes to mind.
Those who know Conroy's work know that he had a love-hate relationship with his mother and father. He was kind to the man in ''The Great Santini.'' In ''The Prince of Tides,'' he lets it all out.
In the film, Wingo matures enough to feel that people are driven by their own demons and that there isn't anything for which most people can't be forgiven.
As the psychiatrist, Streisand is every bit as good as Nolte, but her role is secondary to his.
Blythe Danner plays Wingo's wife. Kate Nelligan plays Wingo's mother. Jeroen Krabbe portrays the overbearing violinist who is married to the psychiatrist. Jason Gould, son of the director and actor Elliott Gould, plays the psychiatrist's son.
"Prince of Tides" is an excellent film with excellent performances by all. The director wins further praise for the manner in which she mixes the past with the present. Her method is ingenious. While it is true that there is nothing new on the screen, this does seem new.
''Prince of Tides''
**** A South Carolina school teacher falls in love with a New York psychiatrist.
CAST: Barbra Streisand, Nick Nolte, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, Jason Gould, Jeroen Krabbe
DIRECTOR: Barbra Streisand
RATING: PG-13 (sex, language)
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes