How mad at Daddy can you get to the point of where you want to kill him?
Reunited with his career criminal father (Christopher Walken) for the first time in years, tough teen Brad Whitewood Jr. (Sean Penn) thinks he’s found his ticket to an exciting life of crime, only to learn that his amoral father is more vicious than young Brad ever imagined.
The film started off as if it were adapted from one of those “young-adult” novels that shows alienated youth doing all of the things they think are cool and rebellious, which really had me feeling as if I was in store for something that would really annoy the hell out of me. Things don’t start to pick-up until Walken comes into play, then the film is all balls-to-the-walls.
Director James Foley does a great job with this real-life story that took place in my state of Pennsylvania (woot-woot!) and give a real beauty to it. There are some real magnificent shots here with the corn-rows looking so detailed that it actually made me hungry, the night shots feel like the moon is right over them, and almost lake, stream, or river reflects some sort of sun-light which gives this gorgeousness in how the film looks which preps us for all of the dirty crap that goes down in the last two acts of the film.
There is a lot of violence that goes down and a lot of disturbing things that happen, especially a rape scene that really had me cringing but none of it ever felt forced. I mean this is a true story so they have to get all of the facts right but all of the shootings, the killings, and non-stop murders felt realistic and needed to show the pure harshness that lied within this film’s subject matter. This was very controversial back in 1986, but the times have changed and there has been a lot worse we’ve seen but this film really packs on the violence and it works.
The film also has a nice central-story that develops as time goes on. The story is all about how this one kid, Brad, will stop at nothing to just be loved and gain the respect from his father, so by doing all of these criminal-like jobs he think that he will easily become daddy’s little boy. However, the dad never allows this and it shows the real sadness that Brad goes through not being able to fully live up to his father and even yet, still knows what’s right and what’s wrong. This story may seem a little bit sad and very depressing but Brad is a good character to begin with and I think as time goes on his story starts to become richer and richer.
The problem that lies within this story is where Foley is trying to take this story’s central theme. In the beginning of the flick, all of the kids are all about violence, guns, and crime but then they soon find out the hard way that it’s all fun and games until someone loses their head. The film itself basically strikes down against the use of guns/violence in society but then by the end when everything starts to get ultra violent and criminal, apparently the film is all about using guns for the murder of another person. I didn’t understand where this film was trying to go with it’s theme but to be brutally honest, it kind of lost me.
Another problem with this flick is the ending itself which seems to be totally and utterly ridiculous that somehow somewhere, it made me actually believe it could happen. *SPOILER ALERT* In the end of the flick, Brad and his girl Terry get shot up by these two gun-men and while Terry is basically dead right on impact,Terry is somehow still left alive, walking, and have enough energy to go in the shower and rinse off a bit. This seemed so idiotic to me that I could actually believe that something like this could actually happen, but when the film was over I was sort of left just knowing that it’s just a film, that is based on true events.
The real reason to see this film is the performances by these two power-houses. Sean Penn is great as Brad because he shows him the scary side to his character but also the morally-intact side that allows us to stand behind and root him on as he goes through all of these problems with his father and just life in general. Penn never lets loose of Brad once and plays all of the sadness and vulnerability so well that he seems like a real-life human being.
Christopher Walken is absolutely brilliant as Brad Sr., the cocky and evil criminal father. Walken takes over just about every scene he’s in, giving us this intimidating and restless figure of a person that you do not want to eff with. Walken is so good at playing likable that you don’t know whether or not to love this guy, or hate the very near-sight of him. Obviously Brad Sr.’s actions show how we should feel but its really Walken who shines through with this villain that just bleeds mean.
Consensus: The point of At Close Range may get lost in the very end of the film, but the story is engaging, the sights and shots look stunning, and the performances from Walken and Penn are what make worth your while, even though it can get extremely violent at times.