Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fearless (1993)

#12: Fearless (Peter Weir, 1993)

Fearless came along shortly after Peter Weir's most blatant Hollywood paycheck projects to that point, Dead Poets Society and Green Card. It also came a year after Alive!, another picture concerned more or less with air flight disaster. My sense has long been that Fearless kind of got lost in the shuffle, whether because of some sort of Weir fatigue, or maybe just a matter of being second to get the elevator-pitch concept out to the public. I think it's much better than most people know.

Its story, about a man who has survived the crash of an airliner and come to believe he is invulnerable to death, often strays into touchy-feely New Age realms, but does so with a flinty poise that rarely fails to redeem it. If only Nixon can go to China, perhaps only Peter Weir can go to such baseline emotional matters of life and death.

There are a number of fine performances here, notably Jeff Bridges—I think this could well be his best. Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, and John Turturro also make memorably good shows. Even Benicio Del Toro in a small role is really great.

As with Au hasard Balthazar, parts of this movie have an enormous impact on me, which is not that easy to get my arms around. The main difference with Fearless is that I have seen it many more times and thus spent more time trying to figure it out. I'm not sure I have yet come up with a good answer. Something about human kindness, I guess, and the pathos of it all—I'm left to resort to such sweeping bland statements. Whatever it is, it always lands powerful punches. I hasten to point out that I've never been particularly afraid of air flight—these days I have way more anxiety about getting through the security lines—but for those with the phobia it's probably one to avoid, certainly if you will be flying any time shortly after.

The clip at the link, which is the end of the movie (so spoilers and all that), never fails to reduce me to a quivering mess, even seeing it again just now in the much reduced YouTube format. Which reminds me—I'm usually indifferent to screen size issues, television vs. plexes vs. cineramas, but this is one sequence (and movie) that really benefits from, indeed cries out for, seeing big. The momentum of Henryk Gorecki's third symphony at the end is particularly effective here, stealing in unobtrusively, swelling at the critical moments, and carrying us well into the credits crawl. I'm nearly always still just sitting there stunned at that point anyway.

"This is it. This is the moment of my death."

Phil #12: Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) (scroll down)
Steven #12: Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)

I've seen both Five Easy Pieces and Top Hat, but I want to see them again, especially the Rafelson, which I saw in the '80s and was lost on me. I've scheduled myself for it in my Netflix queue. Lord knows it seems like I come around on movies all the time. I know the Astaire-Rogers better—I've seen a dozen or so '30s musicals in the past few years and that was one. They were all good. Hard to pick a favorite.

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