At Close Range is a sadly forgotten crime drama from the 80's that is ripe for re watching and praise from new generations. It's a diobolically suspenseful cautionary tale about sins of the father, burying the past, and the violent, tragic things that can happen when you don't leave it buried. Sean Penn plays Brad Whitewood, an aimless young man who along with his brother (Chris Penn, Sean's real life sibling) tries to reconnect with his estranged father, Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken). Brad Sr. is a a charming, hospitable and all together evil son of a bitch, a small time rural crime lord who makes do by hijacking expensive farming equipment. Brad Jr. is enticed by his father's easygoing alpha male aura, and takes up keep with him, if for nothing else than because he has nothing better to do. Big, big mistake. Walken turns out to be a sociopathic monster, coldly turning on his two hapless sons quicker than a venomous cobra. In fact I was reminded of the scorpion and the rabbit story while observing his character. Here is a man so evil that no matter how familiar or close a person is to him, he Wil turn sadistic and destructive on them at the drop of a hat, simply because it is his nature. Walken is a demon daddy in the role, turning a character that could have fallen into clichéd melodrama into a nuanced, intriguing fiend. The Penn brothers, still very young here are tragic and realistically relatable. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with Kiefer Sutherland, Crispin Glover and Mary Stuart Masterson all diving excellent turns. Films this prolific, provocative and tragically entertaining shouldn't get overlooked, especially deadly, downbeat, serious minded scorcher of a thriller like this. Highly recommended.
Watching a movie like this, you can't help wondering why Christopher Walken didn't get more and better roles. He's got everything an actor ought to have. He's not plain looking. He has a dancer's physical presence, a voice that twists its phonemes into pretzels, and seems able to compellingly interpret any part he's given. The guy just cannot be ignored on screen.He does his usual superlative job here as a socialized, aggressive type of antisocial personality, convincingly smooth, while he lies his rear end off. \"You don't rat on your family,\" he coaches his two sons (both Penns) as if he were Don Corleone, before he murders one of them and tries to rub out the other. The only time he shows what might be REAL emotion in when Sean Penn confronts him at the climax and comes close to blowing his ears off with a .45 automatic. He gives an extremely good impression of being scared.Sean Penn is all bulked up here. I'm not sure it fits him too well. He ought to be skinnier. His muscles don't \"drape\" that well. It's as if he's wearing a \"muscle suit\" instead of the \"fat suits\" we've become familiar with. Penn invariably puts a great deal of effort into his performances but, like his muscles, it kind of shows at times. He's good enough here, but is better I think in weasel parts like those in \"The Falcon and the Snowman\" and \"Carlito's Way.\" Mary Stuart Masterson is a real filly in this movie. She was about 20 when it was shot. She's not staggeringly beautiful, which is all to the good, but in her boyish haircut and with her sinewy limbs and broad forehead she looks as if she's just finished her adolescent growth spurt. There is something coltish about her. She runs about as fast as Penn can run.There is some evocative photography too. You can just about feel the summer's humidity and hear the locusts buzzing.Landscape aside, the lifestyle we see on screen is pretty lousy, and in fact the movie starts off in a rather leisurely manner. Characters don't rush through their dialog. They pause between statements, the way people do naturally. But (expletive deleted), how dull things are! They sit around and drink beer and watch TV and never talk. Walken is about the only animated person around. No wonder his boys idolize him.But it's a small life. You know the kind of heavies that Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser fought in \"Walking Tall\" The guys that hung out in a saloon and ran some hookers and cheated customers -- that kind of small-time stuff Those seem to be the offenses that Walken and his cronies commit, so it comes as a big surprise when the FBI enters the scene and starts passing out subpoenas. For heisting tractors And the murders that follow are even more of a surprise. I missed the beginning of the movie so maybe that accounts for the incongruity.At any rate, though the film has its longeurs, a good deal of attention has gone into putting this production together. It isn't overburdened with a loud score. There are no exploding fireballs. The violence, at least in the print I saw, was muted. The murders are quick and, with one exception, bloodless. The director has passed up a chance to cheapen a rape scene by showing us a lot of skin. Instead, he cuts as soon as we've got the idea.Overall, a pretty good job, a lot better than most of the junk on screen these days.
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