' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Thursday's Old Fashioned: At Close Range

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Friday's Thursday's Old Fashioned: At Close Range

---Because I totally cheated you out of a Friday's Old Fashioned last week which likely left you crying in the gutter, I'm making it up to you this week with a double dose of the CR staple. And remember, it's all 80's this month!!!

Brad Whitewood (Sean Penn) rolls into what passes for a downtown of his small, rural Pennsylvania community. His brother (Chris Penn) and his friend have given $5 to an older, skeezier guy to buy them some liquor. But the older, skeezier guy has instead bought a bottle of gin for himself and now won't hand it over. Brad intervenes. The older, skeezier guy gets in his car to drive away. With a non-chalant grin, Brad climbs on the hood of the car. The older, skeezier guys drives off anyway but Brad stays put, still grinning, laughing, ripping off a windshield wiper and sticking it between his teeth like some piece of prized prey. The older, skeezier guy gives in and stops the car. Brad asks for the five bucks and gets it. Then he asks for the gin and gets it. Then he gives the five bucks and the gin to this brother and his friend and leaves them alone. He didn't even want any of the gin! He just wanted to stir up some trouble, see!


Sigh. Don't you miss the young Sean Penn? This Sean Penn? It's not that Sean Penn isn't still a good actor, because he is, but that his political and ethical crusades often, even if they shouldn't, hamper in some way his on screen charisma. But in "At Close Range", dressed like Bruce Springsteen would have been at the time of the film's 1986 release, despite the film's 1978 setting, he is, above all else, a blustery rebel without a cause. And when he finally gets one it isn't political - it's emotional.

Directed by James Foley with an eerie grime, often awash in a score by Doug Astrop that is casked in so much brilliant atmosphere you can practically taste its savory notes as it rolls out of your television's speakers (Madonna cut a song to it and it's good, but it can't match the score itself - you can watch the opening and listen to it here), "At Close Range", almost disbelievingly, is based on a true story of a father who isn't so much ne'er do well as he is straight evil, pulling his oldest son and then eventually his youngest son into his wayward life of crime and not having the slightest flinch at needing to off the both of them if the cops come calling.


As played in the film, however, by Christopher Walken, a potbelly in place that he no doubt grew on purpose, accentuated by a majestic eighties moustache, Brad Whitewood Sr. is charmingly ne'er do well, which is what allows him to easily, gradually, envelope his son in his world of low tech thievery, before turning on a dime into straight evil whenever the situation arises. It's a splendid bit of acting that reels in the viewer and then leaves he or she aghast when you realize just how far he will go to protect his brand. Only Walken could transform a scene of product placement into pure terror. "You want some Cornflakes?"

The young Penn matches him as an idling youth, cooped up with a mother and grandmother who are glimpsed in nearly every scene staring at the TV, desperate for action, who turns to his father both as a means for something "bigger" and also because in a strange sort of way he idolizes this man who's never around and who's cultivated probably the best life possible in such a place. In the meantime he meets and falls for Mary (Mary Stuart Masterson), saddled with a problematic family of her own, and dreams of giving her the life he feels she deserves.


Alas, inevitable events play out involving death, crime and crimes of the heart and before long Father is pitted against Son and Brad Jr. and Mary are transformed into a star cross'd Jack & Diane.

The story could be labeled familiar or overdone or some such thing and these labels wouldn't necessarily be inaccurate, but then to me "At Close Range" came on much more like a re-telling of, say, the opera "Carmen." This is, what, the three thousandth time it's been done? Four thousandth? So what? Doesn't mean it's not really well done.

2 comments:

3guys1movie.com said...

Hmmm I have never seen this film. But the cast and your reveiw have me intrigued. I think I miss alive Chris Penn more than old Sean Penn ;-)

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, I guess I didn't talk about him as much, but it was heartbreaking to see Chris Penn again. Especially WITH his brother.

I'd definitely recommend checking this movie out. It's a good one.