Monday, March 17, 2008

Underrated, Underappreciated Movies, Day 4: Fearless (Jeff Bridges)

Today's Selection:
Fearless (1993)

Fearless, not to be overshadowed by or mistaken for by Jet Li's "last" movie, is Peter Weir's tenth directorial effort. It's about a man who survives a plane crash and finds himself completely unable to experience fear of any form - physical, emotional, social. A highly positive critical reception didn't mean much to its distributors. Getting a "wide" release of 749 theaters on November 5th, 1993, the movie pulled in a domestic 7 million dollars - scant, but impressive, given its rather small release.

What Turned Them Away?

- Size of release.
Perhaps this is because I wasn't aware of much of anything back in 1993 (I was five years old, bite me), but there's really no reason that this received the crappy little release that it did. 750 theaters? I guess not every movie merits the 1800 theaters that Robocop 3 snuck into that same weekend ( Or the nearly 2000 that Look Who's Talking Now decided to stink up ( I know that we bemoan how American movies are dying but let's be honest - things like this have always been popular. Fearless was never meant to be seen by the masses.

- Jeff Bridges's character. The handful of poor dumb bastards who ended up in the wrong theater may have found themselves surprised to see Jeff Bridges playing an emotionally contorted, almost superhuman sociopath, instead of Kirstie Alley or robot explosions. He is a fascinating character, but a rather difficult one to like, and I can't imagine a lot of people giving him that chance. He is really a prick for the first hour or so of the movie; only once he begins his journey to heal himself and another woman is he redeemed. I'm not sure a lot of people made it that far.

What Should Have Kept Them?

+ Jeff Bridges's character.
Max Klein is a man almost completely unique in the world of cinema. Before his accident, he seems to have been a loving father, competent businessman and all-around decent person. After it...he's something totally bizarre. His survival seems to have unlocked something in both his mind and body that completely prevents him from feeling any sort of fear. He screams at people he barely knows just for the hell of it, eats foods he's fatally allergic to with no repercussions, and does whatever he damn well pleases. Some of his actions may come off as unsympathetic or shocking to a viewer, but we have to look at them without our own cultural guards up. The things he does are totally removed from the way society has conditioned him; he is humanity at its root. Selfish.

The movie is largely about Max (and his interactions with another survivor who lost her baby in the accident), and Jeff Bridges does this bizarre figure justice. He sells Max as a sort of Crazy Jesus, alternating between calm and completely irrational. A lot of his actions may seem bizarre, but make almost perfect sense once you re-examine them, and Bridges is a really great guide for this kind of evaluating. You can't NOT watch him, and the movie demands that sort of attention from you - otherwise, the payoff wouldn't work. You wouldn't understand what he does.

+ The direction. Peter Weir gets a lot less attention than he deserves; his bigger, more general (but no less great) Hollywood movies like Witness and Master and Commander are widely-seen, but the smaller ones like this and Picnic at Hanging Rock seem to slip under the radar. His hand is just as steady and masterful in this film as in either of his blockbusters. His choices of visuals are unforgettable, such as a burning cornfield full of wounded, dead, terrified people, and a car slamming full-force into a brick wall in a cloud of broken glass and metal. His use of music is sparing, which makes its appearances all the more remarkable (see below). And the performances he draws out of his actors, like Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, and the Oscar-nominated Rosie Perez, are uniformly stunning. He's a real Renaissance director, talented in many fields and lacking in none.

+ The ending. Without hyperbole, I can safely say this movie has one of the greatest endings of all time. Obviously, elaborating too much would be spoilery, but the confluence of visuals, music, and emotional impact is just enlightening. Absolutely unforgettable.

Fearless, unlike my previous three selections, isn't widely-hated or misunderstood. It's simply great, which a lot of people have yet to recognize. You really owe it to yourself to watch this movie, no matter who you are or what genres you're interested in. If you can bring yourself to accept the initially dubious decisions that Jeff Bridges makes, you will be paid off with a moving, scintillating, dynamic parable.

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