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It's in the genes.
Doctor_Bombay19 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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k h6 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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Gritty, dark, exceptionally vivid drama
Christopher T. Chase26 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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Overlooked gem
JennyP13 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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This one remains in my essentials collection.
Nanx10 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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Better than I thought (revised review)...
The_Core7 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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A sharp and very unforgiving tale of betrayl.
mhasheider9 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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Brilliant Acting - Dark Subject!
Todd Kelly24 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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Family Business? (spoilers)
Pepper Anne9 May 2004
Warning: 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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Strong Acting From Lead Actors
marquis de cinema16 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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Will Mercilessly Break Your Heart!
mackey30004 July 2005
AT CLOSE RANGE is one of the bleakest, coldest, scariest, and most depressing films I have ever was made even more depressing when I learned at the end that it was based on a true story. A very young but already magnetic Sean Penn is heartbreakingly convincing and predictably terrific in the lead role of a tough but generally good kid with family problems that range from a poor home with his mother and grandmother to having a lowlife, evil-to- the-asshole scumbag for a father. As the father, Christopher Walken, in what may be the greatest performance of his career, gives one of the most despicable, hateful, and frightening in it's believability performances in the history of film. He is the epitome of an evil person who has turned amoral with a lot of practice. I can't remember the last time I hated a character in a film as much as I despised Walken. The remarkable final confrontation scene between him and Penn, after a tragedy has happened, is an example of how limitless the raw power that film can evoke truly is when it is in the hands of amazing character actors who get inside their characters in such an awe-inspiring way that they make you feel like you are watching a documentary. The scene makes you so sad and angry at the same time that it just breaks your f**king heart! It is one of the very best scenes of both actors' stellar careers, and it is a scene that I'm sure will be shown every time either actor receives a Career Achievement Award in their future. Mary-Stuart Masterson, a talented actress who unfortunately seems to have gotten lost in the Bermuda Triangle after FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, is also touching and convincing as Penn's underage girlfriend. After watching GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and now this, I think James Foley is clearly one of the modern masters when it comes to directing and setting the stage for great acting. It's not an entertaining movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a powerful, honest, unmercifully human one that will be hard to forget. B+
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A chip off the old block?
Spikeopath21 April 2012
At Close Range is directed by James Foley and written by Elliott Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan. It stars Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, Millie Perkins and Eileen Ryan. Music is by Patrick Leonard and Madonna and cinematography is by Juan Ruiz Anchia. Film is an adapted account of the Pennsylvania Johnston gang headed by Bruce Alfred Johnston Sr, who operated during the 60s and 70s.

Boy ain't got the life expectancy of a house fly.

The real life source of At Close Range is bleak and the makers don't shy from that marker. James Foley's movie is consistently downbeat, even when a snippet of hope rears its head, you sense that it is a waste of time latching onto it. Story is that of harsh family relations, it's often told with bleak passages and is violent, though never in a way that it feels vicarious, these passages are significant and they do not diminish the film's worth. It's an unpleasant movie in a lot of ways, but dovetailing deftly with the criminalisation of one Bradford Whitewood Junior (Sean Penn), a youngster reaching out for some father love from his estranged criminal pappy, Brad Senior (Walken), we get a love story trying to bloom, where the arrogance and naivety of youth hangs heavy in the atmospheric air. There's even a sense of youthful adventure lurking around the edges of the frame.

However, this isn't going to end well, it just can't, surely? Brad Junior is an outcast, a misfit, his life is in a rut, but he is instantly enthralled by what his father can give him, he can't see through his rose tinted spectacles what the audience can and the makers hold us in a vice like grip from the beginning to ensure we are there at the end. An instrumental version of Madonna's haunting pop single "Live to Tell" marries up darkly with the mood crafted, as does Anchia's photography, which looks like it has been shot through some MTV Gothic prism. The acting is powerhouse from S. Penn (intense and full of wrought emotion), Walken (utterly dominant as he shifts unerringly between the charm and nasty gears) and Masterson (naively endearing and makes us care for her Terry character).

It will be a bit too maudlin for some, while some of the Pennsylvania imagery comes close to negating the pervading sense of sadness. But to my mind this is an excellent slice of neo-noir and worthy of seeking out as long as you aren't looking to be cheered up! 8.5/10
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Wow. A scary and chilling ride.
arthurclay23 March 2008
This is one hell of a true story. Almost too wicked to be true yet true it is. Sean Penn is electric in At Close Range. Penn plays the role with the attitude of a 16 year old, who thinks he's smarter than his dad. He isn't. This becomes obvious about 1/3 thru the film. Christopher Walken is the Main Attraction here make no mistake about that. God he was a perfect choice and I mean perfect. Walken's Big Brad Whitewood is very clever, alluring, charming, and extremely deadly. Penn's Little Brad is like the apple who fell from the tree and rolled down the hill it was on for a quarter of a mile. Walken has a crew that is capable and proficient. Penn has a crew that couldn't even complete high school. Dim bulbs is the term I would use. Walken's men are the suburban versions of Scorsese's Goodfellas. They don't look like thieves, they look like killers who are also professional thieves. At Close Range starts off looking like your basic crime film and then escalates to Walken and his gang committing acts of unspeakable evil that some criminals wouldn't even contemplate. All of these guys were bad bad bad people and whom no one would be sorry to see go to prison for the rest of their lives. Why Walken has not given an Academy Award nomination for this I am still trying to reason out. Perhaps because he was given one for the Deer Hunter I suppose but still one was in order. When you see Walken's face come out of the dark of night into his house's screen door and see Penn, he doesn't show shock. He doesn't show fear. He doesn't even blink. That is the mark of a true master criminal and/or psychotic. He gives him no emotion whatsoever then slowly the Cheshire Cat smile and invites him right in. You can't buy that kind of sinister inhumanity. You have to be born with it or learn it for yourself. And what Big Brad Whitewood did defies belief. Certainly without question one of the best films of 1986.
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Penn AND Walken's career-best performances, and in the same film !
cteshawn18 May 2004
This is a shockingly brutal yet beautiful film about what it is like for a rural teen to have it revealed to him over time that his come-and-go father is a not-so-obvious-psychopath, a man whose violent narcissism is surpassed only by his greed and contempt for the law in ways overt and subtle.

I grew up in a similar situation and am shocked at how well this film captured the gray, conflicting emotions of wanting to emulate your father, to be like him and have him be proud of you, and to reconcile that with reality that your dad is a loser, he leads a life based on crime and scams, and that he has no loyalty, no honor and no dignity.

But what isn't so obvious about the film is just how well it captures what it was like to be a teenager growing up in the gorgeous but isolated PA countryside, Philly and NYC so close (2 hrs each) yet SO far away. I grew up within an hour of where this true story is set, and I think that anyone who grew up in an urban environment owes it to themselves to see this movie so they can appreciate the absolute beauty of all the natural things we took for granted and couldn't wait to leave, only to realize just how good we had it once we moved away to those big cities. The photography and locations are excellent - I think the scene at the quarry captures the quintessential sense of optimism and freedom you have as a teenager with all your best friends on a warm summer day that slowly turns into a blissful orange sunset, the feeling that the day would never end, just like your adolescence, like it would only get better and better. If you've ever seen the movie Witness with Harrison Ford, the scenery and geography are very comparable.

The movie is painful for me to watch, but it is so well-done I can't recommend it more strongly. Especially if you are sitting in a small apt in NYC or LA and want to feel the sense of nothing but greenery! I hope you liked it as much as I do.
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Muted Drama.
AaronCapenBanner22 September 2013
Christopher Walken and Sean Penn play Brad Whitewood Sr. & Jr., father and son who are reunited after the fathers long absence. The father belongs to a criminal gang specializing in theft, and his son(along with his friends, and other brother Tommy) want to join the gang, without realizing what a bad role model he really is, since he counts his ties to the gang far tighter than his family, which they will learn to their regret, as they get involved deeper into the stealing of farm equipment.

Though well acted by the leads, with intense direction by James Foley, any emotional involvement is utterly muted, since the viewer is kept at arms length throughout, and it is difficult to care about any of them; you'll just want to see them arrested...
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A modern classic of incredible power and beauty
De Niro-523 August 1999
James Foley's "At Close Range" has been criticized in the past for its overly showy direction, or its somewhat weak supporting cast. Personally, I have always been very critical of films, so I was skeptical at best upon initially viewing this film. After seeing it, I find it hard to believe that it was passed up for any Oscar consideration whatsoever. Sean Penn, who in 1986 was the greatest of the young actors, and who in 1999 is one of the best of the veteran screenmen, gives one of the defining performances of his career here. He has excellent chemistry (of course) with his real-life brother Christopher, of "Reservoir Dogs" fame. Not much needs to be said here about Christopher Walken, who is an American treasure. As father and son, Penn and Walken are wholly believable. These two screen legends add an atmosphere of intensity to the fact-based material, and although the film has what some have called a "storybook" ending, it is based on actuality. The final confrontation between Penn and Walken is one for the time-capsules, a classic scene of modern cinema that will not be forgotten anytime soon. The musical score by Patrick Leonard is seamlessly beautiful and moving throughout, and the addition of the terrific Madonna song "Live to Tell" (one of the highlights of her illustrious career) strengthens the film even more. The supporting cast, contrary to popular opinion, is unusually strong. Standouts in the group include a young Mary Stuart Masterson as Penn's girlfriend, Crispin Glover and Tracey Walter as Walken's younger brother. Foley's direction is showy but masterful. His long, flowing camera sequences establish the film's atmosphere of desparity and innocence lost. On a scale of 10, "At Close Range" scores a 9.5 in my book. Do yourself a favor and rent this incredibly moving film today.
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Sins of the father
ereinion24 May 2013
This is one of the most memorable films of the 80's that I have seen and I always look back at it with affection. I have first seen it back in late 80's, when it first was shown on TV in my country and today when I see it again it still feels the same. This movie is pretty flawless and still remains the best work of James Foley, a very underrated director. It stars 2 of my favorite actors, Christopher Walken and Sean Penn and both make very strong performances. This was Penn's first really strong and serious leading role since Bad Boys.

It is a dark movie and knowing that its based on a true story only adds to its gloom. Brad Jr has never known his father Brad Sr and lives a poor and unsatisfying life with his brother Tommy. It shows the absence of a father in their lives. Even though the boys have been raised well by their mother and grandmother, the absence of their father has left a rough edge in them. So when that father finally appears in their lives again, Brad Jr takes the opportunity to get out of his dead end existence and tries to build a relationship with his estranged father, hoping that it will lead him to a better life. He ignores the bad reputation Brad Sr enjoys in the county, but soon his father's sins become too much for him to handle and he realizes this love is unhealthy for him.

This movie has a really strong and engaging story working for it, as well as the strong acting. Also Chris Penn excels in his role as the bastard son Tommy and Mary Elizabeth Masterson, David Strathairn and R.D. Call make fine supporting roles, as well as Eileen Ryan. This is about not having anywhere to go, trapped between a honest but poor life without a father figure and a rich life with a father figure but a life of crime, murder and deceit. Brad tries to find that middle road desperately and after finding love it looks like he may succeed. But tragedy comes in his way, as it really did happen and does happen in real life. Sean Penn has since made many unforgettable performances but this is where he truly matured as actor. I think those who think this is a tragic love story ought to think again-it is a story about a father and son first and foremost and things that came between them finding each other.
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Important Relationships, Disillusion & Tragedy
seymourblack-126 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
James Foley's "At Close Range" is an incredibly powerful drama with an extraordinary plot which is based on actual events which took place in rural Pennsylvania in 1978. At the heart of the story is a son in his teens who wants desperately to connect with his estranged father and a father who on recognising his son's need, callously exploits the situation for his own evil purposes.

The disturbing events which unfold on screen are presented in a way which creates an ominous but also haunting type of atmosphere which is strongly enhanced by the rather melancholic nature of the score (Madonna's "Live To Tell").

Brad Whitewood Jr. (Sean Penn) is an aimless, unemployed teenager who lives with his divorced mother, his grandmother and his younger brother Tommy (Chris Penn) and spends a great deal of his time drinking, watching TV and smoking pot. After an altercation with his mother's boyfriend which culminated in him getting thrown out of the house, Brad Jr. decides to get closer to his estranged father Brad Sr. (Christoper Walken) Brad Sr. is the leader of a gang of thieves and Brad Jr. is impressed by the excitement, money and fast cars which are all part of his father's lifestyle. Brad Jr. soon gets involved with his father's activities and later starts his own gang which includes Tommy and some of his friends.

Brad Jr. reaches a turning point and disillusion starts to set in as he watches his father and his gang take revenge on a police informant by drowning him and later, after carrying out one of their heists, he and his gang are arrested by the police. The action that Brad Sr. then takes to prevent any of young Brad's circle from informing the police about his activities is both extreme and shocking and leads to his eldest son having to make an extremely painful decision about how he should respond.

Young Brad craved his father's love and also that of his girlfriend Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson) but ultimately both relationships were destined to end in tragedy. Inevitably this is a very sad movie but also one in which young Brad is shown to differ from his father by virtue of the fact that he has some moral standards whereas his father has none.

"At Close Range" is a work of exceptional quality which makes a profound impression on its audience by presenting its riveting story in a very realistic way and also by featuring tremendously strong performances from Sean Penn and Christopher Walken.
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Great movie from 1986.
craiglappe13 March 2003
1986 had so many great movies The Hitcher, Aliens, Top gun, stand by me, platoon, then came at close range a terrific movie that was well made and acted. Sean Penn gave his best performance and this film had alot of heart. Based on a true story this will always remain a classic from the 80's.
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Penn & Walken at their career best
george.schmidt27 February 2003
AT CLOSE RANGE (1986) *** Sean Penn, Christopher Walken, Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, Millie Perkins, Eileen Ryan, Tracey Walter, Crispin Glover, R.D. Call, J.C. Quinn, Candy Clark, David Strathairn, Jake Denzel, Stephen Geoffreys, Kiefer Sutherland. Excellent casting of Penn and Walken as son and father sharing two generations of crime with some modulated tense moments and violence perfectly calculated with a fine ensemble character actor cast. Walken is indelibly chilling. Excellent use of light and shadows in cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia's choices and excellently directed by James Foley.
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Possibly Christopher Walken's best villain.
mhoney-18 October 2003
This is an excellent modern noir, made all the more harrowing by the fact that it was based on incidents that occurred in rural Pennsylvania in the summer of 1978. Sean and Chris Penn play Brad and Tommy Whitewood, living with their mother and her boyfriend in a ramshackle house in Pennsylvania. They are strung out on drugs half the time and can't find employment. After a fight with his mother's boyfriend, Brad goes to live with his father, Brad Whitewood Sr., played perfectly by Christopher Walken as a rural country hick. Walken heads a gang of thieves comprised of his two brothers and a couple of buddies. Tracey Walter, as his psychotic loser brother Patch, is particularly notable. Brad Jr. and Tommy try and prove themselves by organizing friends to steal tractors for their father. Mostly they're just a bunch of punks who don't want to find real work, so Whitewood's gang seems like an easy, exciting way of making money.

Brad Jr. is also in love with Terry, played by Mary Stuart Masterson in her debut. She's pretty, young, and innocent. And while she has no problem with the fact that he's making his money by illegal means, his father grows to find her bothersom.

Things take a turn for the worse when Brad Jr. goes out for his first real job with his father's gang. After pulling off the job, they all celebrate, where they see a former gang-member and known snitch, Lester talking to a police detective. They take Lester for one last ride, where he tells them about a committee organized to investigate Witewood. It may be nothing, and Brad Jr. watches, horrified, as they kill Lester.

Later on Brad Jr. is arrested during a tractor theft, and is held in the hopes he'll break, and he almost doesn't. When he finally does spill, his father starts eliminating everyone who could testify...everyone.

Christopher Walken owns this movie as the gang leader. He's first introduced as a nice enough guy who just happens to be a criminal. Still, he doesn't look any worse than his own sons as far as morality is concerned. His country bumpkin persona works well with some clever bits of dialogue. James Foley creates an excellent noir set among the cornfields of Pennsylvania, away from the dark city streets, where such trappings are usually found. It is a suspenser that ranks with the best of the decade.

Rating 9/10
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re: the real story at close range
lrr100200419 April 2005
Hello. From what i gathered on the websites, the names have been changed in the movie. This may be why a lot of people do not believe this is a true story. The real people are the Johnstons. Bruce johnston raped his stepson, "Brad" girlfriend in the motel. "Tommi" being subpoenaed to court did get him killed by Bruce. The part about the money laundering and theft is true. They killed "Terri" in the car while "Brad" was driving it. Graves were never dug when they led those boys out into the woods. They were burned on a pile of wood. The writer may have had all the facts, but did not play them out right in the movie. It is possible that is why the movie only got 2 1/2 stars. Bruce and Norman Johnston are in separate prisons to this day.

Search under bruce johnston in 1978 or similar. Enjoy.
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Brilliant and underrated crime thriller with tour-de-force performances
yajji19 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
At Close Range is one of the most underrated American films of the 1980s. How it has become so forgotten is not only a sad reflection on film, but also on audiences. Rarely do people flock to the cinema to see such an unflinching neo-realist tale of depravity and dysfunction and perhaps this is why so many people overlooked this engrossing work of art. Films like At Close Range, released in 1986, tread on those very personal lines that make the viewing experience too close for comfort. We all know people who have fallen through the cracks of society, who are morally corrupt, people who represent a failure of school, of parenting, of discipline, of the law, of art, of the accepted way of life... people who are potentially capable of anything at the right time and place. These very people are at the center of At Close Range, which is based on the true story of a notorious Midwestern crime gang with strong familial ties.

The Midwestern United States has become more than a geographic compass, more than a mere region of a nation. It is now representative of a place where change seldom visits and a very outdated, unjust way of life is upheld. Stagnancy seems to be ripe in the region. Prejudicial intolerance and hatred bred out of ignorance has been rampant there. Of course, it is not all like this, but this is how it is commonly depicted in cinema and it makes for some very interesting character studies. History hasn't exactly been kind to the region, tarnishing its reputation with many grisly murder cases. As a result, the 'Midwest' could almost be an epithet of sorts, a setting of a series of similar films that detail the redneck rurality that propels people into nihilistic turpitude and banal evil. A few of these Midwestern films that come to mind are Badlands (1975) and the exceptional Boys Don't Cry (1999). At Close Range is certainly a Midwestern crime drama, just like the aforementioned films. All three of these films are based on harrowing true stories. Of course, the Midwest- crime tale does not just exist in cinema, but also in literature. It harks as far back to Truman Capote's iconic 1960s book 'In Cold Blood', a true crime story about a brutal slaying in a Kansas farmhouse. Thus, the Midwest being painted as a nether-region of sorts where crime seems to be just as familiar to the inhabitants as crop farming is so deeply ingrained in art that At Close Range feels like a tale we have seen or heard about before, yet it is portrayed with such beauty and stark honesty that it takes on a reverence.

In At Close Range, Christopher Walken plays Brad Whitewood Senior, the head of a crime gang who have made millions stealing from other people. His estranged and wayward son, Brad Whitewood Junior, (played brilliantly by Sean Penn) has recently reconnected with Brad Senior, and has a taste for the gangster life that his father so ruthlessly pursues. To Brad Jr, this life of crime is not only alluring, it's a denunciation on the American Dream, a life he refuses to live. Things go awry when Brad's girlfriend, the pretty and petite Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson) and half brother Tommy (referred to Brad Senior as the "bastard" child) come into the picture. Before long, Terry is an unwitting pawn in a situation of pursued vs pursuer. It is her restless eye for Brad Jr. that sets this drama in motion. A blood curdling finale ensues, which threatens to change the lives of these small town lives irrevocably.

At Close Range is many things. It is a tale of love on the run, of a young man growing up in rural America, the tale of idyllic small town life that very finely treads the line of reckless abandon (the boys and their girls spend summer afternoons at the lake, drinking and making out), the tale of family dysfunction, of lower middle class life, of the corrupt, of vengeance, and ultimately of justice. But I think what is truly at the heart of this film is a son's coming of age - a desperate need for a father, which is what makes the final act so heartbreaking. Brad Junior so desperately needs guidance, love and affection, but the very man who should have given it to him is so hopelessly screwed up and even dangerous, so dangerous in fact that he would murder his own son if he threatened to spill the beans on his crime gang. Very few characters have been as terrifying and evil as Christopher Walken's Brad Senior. When Brad Junior finally finds the love he has sought after for so long in Terry, it is cruelly snatched away from him by his own flesh and blood.

Everyone in this film was at their very best here as far as talent goes. The acting is mesmerizing, there isn't a weak link in the entire cast. Walken, Penn and Masterson all deserved Oscar nominations for their deeply effecting performances. The cinematography was another pleasant surprise, every shot unfolds as though it was plucked straight out of a waking dream. The scenes at night evoke so much mood and suspense, while the sun-drenched scenes at the lake and on the farms recall those glory days we all knew and long for. Of course, things move at a languid pace at times, but the direction remains tight and the suspense picks up very rapidly. As the film progresses towards the final moments, it becomes increasingly harder to watch, but it's equally as difficult to look away. I was hooked, thanks to the expertly crafted worked by the cast and crew. At Close Range is truly a diamond in the rough.

I highly recommend this film for being an intricately layered, absorbing study on moral abandon and small-town idle that eventually spills into violence. It's unforgettable.
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80's masterpiece hits it's bullseye
PeterMitchell-506-56436413 November 2012
At Close Range is a wonderfully perfected movie. A tour de masterpiece of potent scenes, some truly unforgettable, dramatic, shocking, a little thanks to Madonna's hit "Live To tell" that plays at different instrumental speeds throughout the film. The lyrics of this song, stand true to it's story, which itself, is shockingly true. In my opinion, At Close Range, was one of the best films of 1986, a big year for vengeance movies in Adelaide. Another shocking fact, was that this movie only ran for twelve days, which I think in one sense is criminal. Real life brothers, Sean and Christopher play the Whitewood brothers. Their scumbag of a father and a master thief, known as Brad Whitewood Senior (Christopher Walken in a brilliant and menacing performance) who left them long ago, has just stepped back into the picture. The dialogue between son and the returning father is bizarre. He even has to consult with his son, if the other son, is the guy flopped out on his couch, which he isn't. Wanting to escape his dead, small town existence, Brad Junior (Penn) and his friends join up with his father's gang. This gang consists of some real scary types from A level actors who each bring something to the table. You even get to see how this professional gang of thieves operate on some jobs, one including Penn on his first job, alone with the guys, before he brings his mates in. Later on, when him and his mates stuff up, and are arrested, jeopardizing his father's operation, Brad Senior has them picked off, one after the other, in consecutive scenes, while Brad Junior remains in lockup. They all die in the same location, which I found haunting. The father's an absolute piece of s**t. A great use of scene atmosphere is at a cockfight, with Walken talking with a shady acquaintance, about arranging the killings. There's also of course, a love interest, Penn's new girlfriend, Terri (Mary Stuart Masterson) one of those impressive young actresses of the eighties. What the hell happened to her? Sadly for Terri, her fate meets with tragic ends in a arranged execution, that Penn remarkably survives. Directed by James Foley, a guy who knows how to make films, ACR is just another one of his, I loved. It's wonderfully shot and brilliantly acted. Each actor brings a totally different character to other ones they play, and I'm talking mainly Walken's gang and some others. They're heavyweights who've created real, human character performances. They should all be bloody commended. In fact At Close Range should also be known as a budding actors handbook. To finish this movie off, with a cherry on the top, we're treated to Madonna's version of Live To Tell as the end credits come up. Put this one on your eightie's movies to see. Please!
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Well done portrayal
Merrill19 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I come to this movie from the perspective of someone who lived through the "true story" on which At Close Range is based. What is both enjoyable and chilling for me is how accurate many aspects are to actual events and places. While most of the movie was filmed nowhere near southern Chester County, PA the spirit is well captured. The diner scenes with Brad Sr. evoke the spirit of the Miss Oxford Diner where he used to regularly dine, and plan future crimes. The scenes where members of the "kiddie gang" were murdered were so well portrayed to the area (my old neighborhood) it is eerie.

No movie is a perfect historical depiction, and certainly the escapades of the Johnston Gang are not going to leave anyone with a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of the movie. But what you do have here is a very well acted movie, that is a reasonably accurate portrayal of the events and the area.

And the story of this movie accurately depicts how an otherwise nice rural neighborhood can be changed by small time organized crime.
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