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Overall Rating
4.4

Awesome55%
Worth A Look: 37.5%
Average: 2.5%
Pretty Bad: 2.5%
Total Crap: 2.5%

2 reviews, 28 user ratings


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At Close Range
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by J. K. Radtke

"Oh my god, like, this movie is soooooo good!"
5 stars

Teen apathy films are precious cinematic commodities to a feller like me. Not that I was ever an apathetic teen mind you (mostly just self-hating, but I’m saving that story for when I’m a guest on “Dr. Phil”), I just like watching teenagers in endless mental peril. The downward spiral of underdeveloped minds is something I find riveting, fascinating, and just plain down right awesome! Films like Bully, River’s Edge, and Heathers run the gamut from the extremely dark to straight-up comedy; and to give the genre that much needed sucker-punch to the nuts, most of them are based on true stories! (Except for Heathers, which I’m sure could somehow be blamed for helping to inspire the Columbine shooting, though I don’t remember a fat girl rolling around on a motor-scooter, but that’s not to mean she wasn’t there, rolling around.)

But if you were to take every teen apathy film ever made, throw them into a steel cage, and let them rumble until there was only one left standing, your winner would be the bullet riddled and truly tragic, At Close Range. And guess what, it’s based on a true story, too! Score one for the good guys.

Brad Whitewood Jr. (Sean Penn), also known as Little Brad, is a small town punk Pennsylvania teen who spends his days fixing junkers parked on the front lawn of his house, watching television, smoking pot, and hanging off the hoods of moving cars for five bucks and a bottle of Gin. On his way to meet up with his brother, Tommy (played by real life brother, Christopher Penn…before he bloated) and a friend, he lays his eyes on a beautiful young girl named Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson). Smitten, he introduces himself, offers her some drugs that look more like NERDS, and starts the two on their way to a happy little teenage romance.

Brad Whitewood Sr. (Christopher Walken), also known as Big Brad, is the leader of a small band of thieves who specialize in stealing farm equipment. Brad is a smooth talking conman with a hefty reputation around town for being one shady dude. After a short fling with Little Brad’s mom, Julie (Millie Perkins), Big Brad dumps them for greener pastures (younger women, and fewer attachments), creating a sizeable void in Little Brad where a father figure should be.

As the film progresses, Little Brad is taken in by Big Brad, introduced to the gang, taught the ropes, and then sent out on his own to pillage for his old man. Big Brad, recognizing Little Brad’s desire to get close to his father, and uses that to manipulate his son to do his bidding; though I’m sure there is a tiny sense of emotional satisfaction in finally getting to know the son he’d abandoned. But, any emotional satisfaction felt is strictly secondary to his devotion to greed.

The performances from Sean Penn and Christopher Walken in this film are nothing less than extraordinary. (Oscar worthy, really—the fact that they weren’t even nominated for this film serves as further proof that the Academy Award is a bogus metal trinket best suited for bludgeoning puppies or small children, it represents the best in Hollywood not.) I am not the biggest Sean Penn fan in the world, as I see him as a willing De Niro clone, not a man trying to carve out his own professional identity; however, in At Close Range, he flawlessly presents a multi-faceted character that spans the entire spectrum of human emotion, and compounds it with the mental complexities that cloud teenage thinking throughout those angst ridden years. Christopher Walken is at his very best as Big Brad, successfully injecting his natural quirks into a soulless criminal who would rather dispose of those whom could possibly do him in, rather than face the music. And what makes him worse is his willingness to take that sense of self-preservation to the point that he’s willing to sacrifice his own family. (The character is so scary Robert De Niro turned the part down.)

Rounding out the performances is a clan of accomplished screen vets: R.D. Call, J.C. Quinn, David Strathairn, and Tracey Walter make up Big Brad’s gang of thieves and killers; Stephen Geoffreys, Keifer Sutherland, Crispin Glover, and the aforementioned Chris Penn make up Little Brad’s wannabe clique of takers. Both groups are great at adding the perfect level of peripheral ambience that allows you to be sucked in deeper and deeper.

The film’s score is largely made up of the music from Madonna’s number one hit, “Live to Tell.” Like Penn, I’m not a huge Madonna fan, but “Live to Tell” is arguably her greatest song, and the music fits perfectly within the film, adding the necessary punctuation to the impending hopelessness that is to unfold.

At Close Range pulls no punches with its storyline; its callous portrayal of Big Brad’s self-preservation is truly disturbing. If you’re the kind of viewer that maintains a certain level of appreciation for human life while you watch films (as I do), this movie will probably depress the crap out of you—a fitting compliment to the skilled filmmakers and actors that made this remarkable little film.

If you’ve never heard of this movie, or have, but never thought enough to check it out, you’re really missing out on one hell of an experience! If for no other reason, see this movie for the performances, as it is a shame to think that there are Penn, Walken, or Teen Apathy fans out there that’ve never watched it. I couldn’t recommend this movie enough.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3351&reviewer=386
originally posted: 05/04/05 17:18:39
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User Comments

8/09/18 Anne powerful 4 stars
12/08/17 morris campbell potent but downbeat 4 stars
9/26/11 Billy pure shit 1 stars
7/04/10 PAUL SHORTT BRUTAL, DOWNBEAT AND DISPIRITING 2 stars
10/03/09 Jeff Wilder An underrated classic. 5 stars
9/09/08 ben dover briliant movie with superb acting 5 stars
3/03/08 ladavies People need to know that this movie is a CLASSIC! 5 stars
2/18/08 dave rohde One of the best acted,cast,written and FILMED pieces of cinima of the 20th century! 5 stars
5/16/05 Chris Stephens Good early Penn 4 stars
2/11/05 joseph drese in the land of boredom and no future the devil thrills 5 stars
11/05/04 Rich Strickler One of Sean Penn's best performances. Chris Walken goes toe to toe with him as well. 4 stars
12/08/03 LIAM JACKSON i never saw evil so singularly personified as i did in the face of chris walken 5 stars
7/29/03 femalebenice@excite.com the movie told the story great! 5 stars
6/28/03 Jenny Fogarty excellent.My favourite film of all time.Love Sean Penn,Christopher walken since seeing this 5 stars
5/20/03 JB Dark but Very interesting, it will suck you in, Great Performances by Penn and Walken 5 stars
4/23/03 daniel iriarte the intense, raw power of Walken and Penn is extraordinary, brilliant casting, disturbing.. 4 stars
4/08/03 Jivecat sucks you in, dark but great movie-true story makes it even crazier 5 stars
3/14/03 Scott M. Incredible acting 5 stars
3/01/03 Gayle Hernandez Saw it two days ago and am still in awe. 5 stars
12/29/02 Jack Sommersby A masterpiece; Penn's best perf. Great review, Jim! 5 stars
12/20/02 Learl L Godby There alot of bradwoods out there beware could be living next door 5 stars
11/21/02 ronald mcdonald fuckin awesome dude 5 stars
11/10/02 C.J. Conklin Remarkable acting, two fine actors work together to create an eternal masterpiece. 4 stars
8/06/02 Phil M. Aficionado Dark, chilling, well-acted; that it is based on fact makes it all the more disturbing 4 stars
1/22/02 The Man This is powerful stuff, but somehow didn't live up to expectations. 4 stars
5/26/01 malcolm disappointing overall, Penn was awesome 3 stars
2/17/01 Jake Sean Penn and Walken light up the screen. 4 stars
12/08/99 My ass is on fire, It's not funny Christopher Walken is one bad ass mo fo.This movie rocks. You don't. Fuck You. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  02-Apr-1986 (R)

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