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At Close Range
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Reviews & Ratings for
At Close Range More at IMDbPro »

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43 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

It's in the genes.

Author: Doctor_Bombay from Lucas Buck, NC
19 April 1999

This raw look at small town hoods brutally exposes us to a portion of society rarely depicted in movies. Souped-up cars and small time heists are nothing new, but `At Close Range' is really more ‘The Godfather' than `Bonnie and Clyde'.

Disobedient kids, worthless mom, ineffective stepfather. Every day we hear tell of it on Montel, Jerry Springer, and Sally. Here, we see it, here we live it.

James Foley does his best work here, you might think it funny to call a film with a lot of 4x8 paneling and muscle shirts ‘stylish' but this film has its own distinctive style, in many ways reminding me of Michael Mann's very stylish `Thief'

Christopher Walken is nothing short of spectacular. Both the Penn brothers (Sean and Chris) do very strong turns as sons of this verrry badddd man.

Great story, powerful performances. All too real. Even a bit of a storybook ending doesn't tarnish this one.

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41 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

Overlooked gem

10/10
Author: JennyP from Seattle, WA
13 December 2001

I saw this movie when it first came out, and it's remained one of the most memorable films I have seen since. Sean Penn & Christopher Walken especially produce very powerful, realistic performances. Walken's evil father is a spot-on echo of a relative of mine - right down to the mustache & body language. <shudder> Sometimes, though, Walken's low-class accent is so thick I couldn't make out just what he's saying.

The dialogue is just subtle enough to feel realistic. Although the movie moves along at a slow, deliberate pace, the plot still feels nice & tight. And the cinematography is stylish. An instrumental version of the song Live to Tell, that Madonna turned into a hit, is actually used as the main theme running under almost every scene. It's not often that a pop song associated with a film is actually used in the film itself - usually it's just tacked on at the closing credits. But it was used to great atmospheric effect here.

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29 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Gritty, dark, exceptionally vivid drama

Author: Christopher T. Chase (cchase@onebox.com) from Arlington, VA.
26 December 2000

Sean Penn, who has now effectively established himself behind the camera as a fine director as well, once expressed that he didn't care that much for acting. When one reflects on the more brilliant achievements he's made in his career, and can contemplate how physically and emotionally exhausting his best and most difficult roles have been, it's not a statement that comes across as being that unusual. And nowhere can the toll a role can take on an actor be felt more keenly, than in AT CLOSE RANGE, with his portrayal of ne'er-do-well, small town knockabout Brad Whitewood, Jr.

The chilling poignancy of the film and the events it portrays are even more stunning (and depressing) when it is revealed that everything is based on true events.

The direction, photography, editing, scoring and most of all the acting work wonders to convey the ennervating malaise of small-town life in middle America, and how it can affect and motivate people to act or react in ways that propel them into situations that people in more metropolitan areas may smugly observe that they would never find themselves in.

Brad Whitewood Jr. (Penn) and his little brother, Tommy (Chris Penn in an amazing early performance) don't have that luxury. Caught in the inescapable pull of the dying farming community in which they live, like lost stars drifting near the event horizon of a black hole, they have nothing better to do than cruise the main square, get drunk, get high and get into trouble.

The one bright spot in their ocean of darkness is their frequently absentee dad, Brad Whitewood, Sr. (Christopher Walken at his best and most frightening). Suave, cocksure and charismatic, Brad Sr. represents a world of fascinating danger and adventure that has his boys enthralled. Brad Sr. runs a black market ring that deals in stolen equipment parts, amongst various other unlawful and unsavory activities, and as it is revealed early on, when it comes to protecting his bottom line, Brad Sr.'s vicious wrath recognizes no allegiance to loyalty or kin.

To prove themselves worthy of their dad's attentions, Brad, Tommy and their friends (which include future stars John Laughlin, Kiefer Sutherland and Stephen "Fright Night" Geoffreys), decide to start their own gang, with disastrous results. The federal authorities, who have been after Brad Sr. for a long time, decide to use the boys as leverage to nab him, and subpoena them as State witnesses against him. But even they underestimate his capacity for evil, as he demonstrates in one of the film's most graphically shocking setpieces.

Only an actor worth his mettle can hold a scene with Christopher Walken, let alone take it away from him, and Penn proves to be more than worthy of the challenge. You will find both actors doing some of their best, most gut-wrenching work here. A fun time at the movies this is not, but in terms of acting ability, the efforts on display here are damn near flawless, and should have been recognized at Oscar time.

Also commendable are subtle turns by Millie Perkins as the boys' mom, who is adamantly against the idea of having her hooligan estranged husband influencing her boys, yet isn't beneath accepting his guilt money every now and then, and Mary Stuart Masterson, who shines like a beacon as Brad Jr.'s inspiration to dream of a better life, even with a menacing threat to her own from his father, whom she defies, with tragic results.

James Foley's tight direction, the atmospheric and almost surreal lighting and shadows captured masterfully by DP Juan Ruiz Anchia, Nicholas Kazan's sure-handed screenplay, Patrick Leonard's haunting score (the basis for Madonna's hit "Live To Tell"), and as mentioned before, the superb acting, make for an experience that you may not enjoy, but it will most certainly stay with you for a very long time...

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25 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

Disturbing.

8/10
Author: k h from United States
6 February 2006

This is such a well crafted film in so many ways, I urge you not to watch it alone. The writer has dipped into Greek mythology as well as modern newspaper tabloids, and come up with a frightening collection of kids and adults that you absolutely believe could exist down the street in a 'lesser' part of town.

I won't go into the plot, except to say that it's centered around kids need for love from their parents- and what they'll do to get it.

Chris Walken walks away with the film- every time he's on screen, it lights up and all sense of time stops. I'm not exaggerating! He's stunning.

The Penn brothers, Sean and Chris, do fine work as well. But I was most surprised by Chris Penn, he's open and sad and really quite a terrific actor.

I think this is James Foleys best film, and worth a rent.

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23 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

This one remains in my essentials collection.

10/10
Author: Nanx from Nashville, TN
10 February 2002

This movie is an old favorite. I think this is the one work by Sean Penn that became the pivotal interest in him for me. He was, as usual in anything he does, absolutely convincing. Same for Christopher Walken. The casting was perfect, the scenery and soundtrack done beautifully. I've been recommending this one to friends for ages.

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26 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant Acting - Dark Subject!

9/10
Author: Todd Kelly from T.O.
24 March 2002

A very good film that I recommend highly if you are in the right frame of mind to view truly evil subject matter. The acting by Walken, Penn, Penn and Masterson is brilliant. Espescially the last few minutes. Sean Penn's performance is my favourite acting moment of all time. Even writing this makes me take a deep exhale.

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27 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Family Business? (spoilers)

7/10
Author: Pepper Anne from Orlando, Florida
9 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw Madonna's music video for At Close Range long before I had ever seen the movie. The movie turned out to be very good.

'At Close Range'is a riveting and depressing film based on a true story. The Whitewoods live in a small Philidelphia town that does not offer much motivation nor much opportunity. When their father, Brad Whitewood, Sr. (Christopher Walken), suddenly shows up, teenager Brad Jr. (Sean Penn) wants very much to get to know him and impress him. But father-son bonding here has its price and Brad Sr. is not as sincere as his son might hope, despite the lure of a lifestyle that seems to be paying well and respectably. Brad Sr. and his 'business associates' recruit his sons Brad Jr. and Tommy (Chris Penn looking very gorgeous and almost Romanesque), and their friends (including Keifer Sutherland and Crispin Glover) into their glamorous life of crime. But when a heist goes wrong to steal tractors from a dealership, Brad Jr. is arrested and interrogated by the cops.

Though Brad Jr. is very loyal to his father and friends, intent on not cracking under pressure, Brad Sr. questions his ability to keep quiet about the group's activities. And even if that means selling out his sons, Brad Sr. is plans to eliminate any loose ends that might be able to incriminate him. Everyone. But, someone does live to tell the tale.

It is a sad story knowing that these dumb kids were hooked into a whole mess, hoping they could be admired by their father, and likewise, be proud of him, even if what he was doing was illegal. But in the end, their old man turned out to be a vicious psycho who turned his back on everyone to save his own neck.

I particularly like the visuals and music as it is used in this film, with constant juxtasposition (of visuals, not sound) used to illustrate not only simultaneous events and moods, but also the stark differences between Brad Jr.'s somewhat naive ideals and (mostly) still-innocent position, as opposed to the cruelty of his father. Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, as usual, did a fine job, with such stinging realism of the choppy relationship between father and son. Meanwhile, the Penn brothers share the screen with their realife mother, Eileen Ryan. Mary Stuart Masterson also does a fine job as Brad Jr.'s girlfriend.

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19 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Better than I thought (revised review)...

9/10
Author: The_Core from Seattle, WA. USA
7 December 2000

Having recently purchased this movie on DVD and viewed it again, I feel compelled to amend my prior comments. On the most recent viewing, I watched the movie much more carefully than on prior viewings, and can now see the motivations of the character(s) more clearly, and how the 'situation' portrayed in the film spiralled out of control (click on my username to read my prior review for "At Close Range," in which I questioned the actions of the villain). On more careful viewing, the whole thing makes a lot more sense.

I want to revise my prior comment -- this is a superb film, and I've voted again and now give this film 9/10. If you haven't seen it, now's a great chance. Great acting by *everyone*, especially Sean Penn and Christopher Walken (this is one of Walken's best parts ever).

The DVD version of the film just came out (I had it on preorder and received it yesterday), and I have to say how impressed I am with the transfer. Absolutely superlative, clear picture quality, although I can't evaluate the sound because I have only stereo speakers, no dolby surround. But the video transfer itself is one of the best I've seen for a movie this old, looking like the film might just have been made six months ago. It appears that quite a bit of work went into restoration. If you have a DVD player, you owe it to yourself to get this film on DVD, although the only 'special feature' is the original theatrical trailer. The film is offered in both widescreen and pan-and-scan formats (two-sided single-layer).

Revised Review: 9/10

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15 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A sharp and very unforgiving tale of betrayl.

9/10
Author: mhasheider from Sauk City, Wisconsin
9 January 2002

Tender yet painful story about a rural Pennsylvania teen, Brad Whitewood, Jr. (Sean Penn) who along with his half-brother, Tommy (real-life brother Chris Penn) finally meet their estranged father, Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken), decide to join their father's crime network only to discover how brutal that he can be to them while dodging the feds at any cost. (Sean) Penn and Walken are well-cast here and to watch the pair on-screen at the same time is a delight. Director James Foley guides the film where it should go and the script by Nicholas Kazan is made to near perfection in handling the mood and tension. It's also a surprise that the film itself is based on a true story that took placed in 1978. A sharp and very unforgiving tale of betrayl.

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20 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Strong Acting From Lead Actors

9/10
Author: marquis de cinema from Boston, MA
16 August 2001

At Close Range(1986) is a powerful story about the conflict between father and son that leads to tragedy. The film is loosely based on a true story. What happens in the course of the film is enough to exhaust the reactions of the viewer. The story is made powerful from the tense moments and strong emotions. The director lends some brilliance in creating a tight and compact crime drama.

Excellent companion to the similarly themed but different storied Out of the Blue(1980). Both deal with the angst of the main characters who are big time misfits. In At Close Range(1986) and Out of the Blue(1980) the father is first beloved then despised by the main characters. The fathers played by Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken are selfish jerks who care only about themselves. The two films share with each other a bleak and dark portrait of the family structure.

The main theme song called "Live to Tell" goes well together with most of the film's motif. The song represents what the whole story is about. The masterpiece of James Foley who has done a couple of other terrific films besides At Close Range(1986). The relationship between Brad JR and his girlfriend adds more to the antagonistic relationship between father and son. Way better than the lousy Fear(1996) or the horrible The Corruptor(1999).

Christopher Walken gives one of his top great performances in the role of Brad Whitewood SR. He does a convincing job at playing an evil character with deceptive charm. Not many actors can be charming and despicable in the portait of a character like Christopher Walken. This is a film where the talents of Chris Walken are put to good use. It also helps that he acts aside another terrific talent in Sean Penn.

Sean Penn brings out the performance of his life in an otherwise inconsistent acting career. Despite being a talented actor, Sean Penn rarely fullfills in some films his capabilities of being a great actor. At Close Range is one of the few times where the talents of the actor are filled to the top of the glass. His character is someone that many can identify with. He puts every ounce of emotion into making Brad Whitewood JR a believable person.

The acting is very good as a total sum. Mary Stuart Masterson gives a solid turn in one of her best roles. Kiefer Sutherland makes a film apprearence before he became a well known actor. The other actors contribute with some believable and solid performances. The acting makes it worthwhile to see the film many times.

The father of At Close Range(1986) is an unforgettable villain in 1980s cinema. Brad Whitewood SR makes Darth Valder look like Santa Claus by comparison. Brad Whitewood SR can be charismatic and evil in the same breath. This character is a cowardly and sleezy person who will do anything to save his own skin. Only the yakuza father from Fudoh:the New Generation(1996) surpasses Brad Sr in cold blooded and ruthless behavior patterns.

The growing conflict between father and son leads to a tense confrontation towards the end. The confrontation with Brad SR and Brad Jr are some of the best acting moments in the careers of Christopher Walken and Sean Penn. This moment is tense to the point where everything else in the scene slows down. Its sad to see Brad JR our out his soul in anger to a father who doesn't care about him. Its the conflict of the two people that the movie center around.

One of the most emotionally draining film experiences I have been apart of as a film viewer. The high engery emotions are brought to live with the three dimensional acting of the main cast. A big emotional moment for me is the confrontation between Brad Jr and Brad Sr. For a film like At Close Range(1986) emotional content is a main part of the story. Not many films today have the heart or feeling of a film like At Close Range(1986).

In the tradition of films such as In Cold Blood(1968) and The Onion Fields(1981). Its too bad that a film like Fear(1996) never reached the emotional altitude of this picture. The writing of the story and characters are deeply realized. The director, James Foley is excellent in displaying realistic problems and situations. At Close Range(1986) is one of those neglected classics from the 1980s that is worth seeing for the performances of the main actors.

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