Sunday 16 June 2024

Movie Review: At Close Range (1986)

Genre: Crime Drama  
Director: James Foley  
Starring: Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Mary Stuart Masterson, Christopher Penn, Tracey Walter, David Strathairn  
Running Time: 115 minutes  

Synopsis: The setting is rural Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. Shiftless youth Brad Whitewood Jr. (Sean Penn) starts a romance with local girl Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson), and reconnects with his absentee father Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken), who leads a hardened gang engaged in industrial scale theft. Eager to raise money to start a new life with Terry, Brad Jr. is drawn into his father's orbit, with unexpected consequences for his dim brother Tommy (Christopher Penn) and their group of friends.

What Works Well: Based on actual events involving the Johnston crime clan, this is a brooding father-son drama bathed in lyrical aesthetics and moody characterizations. The cinematography (by Juan Ruiz Anchía) and artistic lighting create landscapes of forgotten Americana where youth routinely resort to alcohol and drugs to escape adult-created unattractive realities. Christopher Walken dominates his scenes with the dead-eyed charm of a cold-hearted career criminal, and a muscular Sean Penn brings a winning combination of likeability and intensity in search of upgraded prospects. The opening notes of Madonna's Live To Tell provide ominous soundtrack underpinnings.

What Does Not Work As Well: For long durations, the content is sparse and the pace slow. Director James Foley enjoys stylistic immersions in scene after scene of attitude setting, the lack of narrative thrust increasingly apparent. As a result, the exclamatory events in the final 20 minutes are more of an ill-fitting jolt than an enhancement.

Conclusion: Ferocity as a feeling rather than a force.

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