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After a terrible air disaster, survivor Max Klein emerges a changed person. Unable to connect to his former life or to wife Laura, he feels godlike and invulnerable. When psychologist Bill Perlman is unable to help Max, he has Max meet another survivor, Carla Rodrigo, who is racked with grief and guilt since her baby died in the crash which she and Max survived. Written by
Jeff Bridges has been called the most underrated actor of his generation, and 'Fearless' speaks to the truth of such a claim. Equally overlooked is Australian director Peter Weir, who, like Bridges, was snubbed by the Academy Awards for 'Fearless.' The film was almost totally ignored by the Academy, perhaps due to the fact that 1994 was the year of the historical/political epic--'Schindler's List,' 'In the Name of the Father,' and 'The Remains of the Day' were the big winners that year, casting a bit of a shadow over a film about a rich white American suffering from PTSD.
Based on the novel by Rafael Yglesias, 'Fearless' is the story of Max Klein, a successful San Francisco architect who survives a horrific plane crash. Among the casualties of the crash are Klein's partner and best friend and the only child of Carla (Rosie Perez), a young Puerto Rican woman from Oakland who blames herself for her son's death. Prior to the accident Max suffered from an acute fear of flying; when the plane goes down, his fear becomes so intense that he accepts death. When he survives the crash, he suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome in which he can no longer feel fear because subconsciously he has already faced death. His condition creates a rift between himself and his family, a gap he tries to fill through a friendship with Carla, who is similarly afflicted with PTSD.
Bridges gives a tour de force performance as Max, who is simultaneously heroic (he leads other passengers to safety believing he is guiding them out of the plane into heaven) and contemptible (he is unspeakably cruel to his family and leaves his wife temporarily to pursue a relationship with Carla).
He's not sure whether he's alive or dead, and he is frequently drawn to test his fear and uncertainty through ludicrously dangerous stunts like dancing on the edge of a skyscraper's roof or walking calmly into speeding traffic. It's an unflinching and emotionally honest portrayal of a psychologically damaged man unsure that he has the strength or will to be healed.
Equally stunning is Rosie Perez as Carla, a devout Catholic who believes that her baby's death is a punishment from God and is nursed back to normalcy by the agnostic Max.
Other supporting actors are also captivating: Isabella Rosselini as Max's wife Laura, who loves her husband desperately but is unable to cope with Max's alienation from her and their son Jonah; Tom Hulce as an overeager but well-meaning attorney suing the airline on behalf of Max, his partner's family, and Carla; John Turturro as a psychiatrist specializing in PTSD hired by the airline to help the survivors cope with the after-effects of the tragedy; and Benicio Del Toro as Carla's husband, a poor carpenter who can't help but feel giddy about the possibility of making millions off of his son's death. Perhaps most moving is Deirdre O'Connell as the widow of Max's partner--the scene in which Max arrives at her home to confirm that her husband did not survive the crash will break the hardest of hearts.
The film is brilliantly directed by Weir, who captures the surreal nature of Max's condition masterfully.
'Fearless' is not an easy film to get through, perhaps even moreso in the wake of 9/11. The subject matter is emotionally wrenching, and its presentation is utterly unsentimental. Max is heroic, but he is also a victim, and Bridges' performance captures the tension between Max's newfound love of life and his near-psychotic need to continually face and overcome his fears. It's a tear-jerker, and it's certainly haunted by the ghosts of the dead, but it's well-worth watching if only for the pleasure of seeing one of the best actors in the business at his best.
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