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Wade Whitehouse is a sheriff of a small New Hampshire town who achieved nothing in life in the opinion of his ex-wife Lillian and daughter Jill and is a heavy drinker. His girlfriend Margie accepts him the way he is. On the first day of the hunting season, Wade's friend Jack takes a wealthy businessman to hunt - and only Jack returns alive. Wade decides to play detective and starts investigating the case despite the fact Jack insists it was an accidental self-inflicted shot. Written by
This film is a perfect example of how the sins of the father are not only visited upon the son, but are perpetuated by him, and serve to visit and affect others as well. There is one story line here: Wade Whitehouse, town police constable of Lawford, New Hampshire was raised by an abusive alcoholic grouch of a father. He has remained in the town while his siblings have fled. His terrible relationship with his father has infiltrated every relationship that he's had, and acts as the lens through which he sees and judges the world. Because of this, his relationships with different people are all ambivalent: He either respects them and turns to them as a pupil would his master, or he hates them, and violently lashes out at them because they have disappointed him in upholding his preconceived 'high assessments' of them. Wade is very unstable in that he seems to have a drinking problem, an inability to manage his anger, and as a result but also as a constant circuitous reason, a very low moral view of himself. In this elliptical plot, an important crystallizing event is the hunting accident that results in the death of a rich Bostonian with suspected links to organized crime named Evan Twombley, whose son in law--Mel Gordon--is in business with Wade's boss, Gordon LaRiviere (whom Wade both admires and despises). The New Hampshire State Police seem to think this is an open and shut case of accidental death: Twombley goes hunting with Wade's young friend Jack, winds up shooting himself, and that's that. However to Wade, this is not the end of the story. Wade's low assessment of himself, his having to deal with his father more closely after his mother's recent death, his financial destitution and reliance upon Gordon LaRiviere, as well as his failing attempt to have a close relationship with his estranged daughter Jill and ex-wife Lillian causes him in a desperate act of self assertion of his 'authority' to insist that Twombley was in fact murdered, and that all characters that surround him--his boss Gordon, Jack, and Mel--are involved in a sinister plot to not only get away with murder, but to deceive him and make him look foolish. As Wade's fantasy elaborately blooms into a wonderfully baroque and intricate starcaise to psychosis, his relationships with the people of Lawford and particularly with his close friends and family rapidly begin to deteriorate. Watching this occur is like witnessing an avalanche, and exemplifies Kierkegaard's assertion that one does not hit rock bottom in despair, but instead can always sink lower, perhaps infinitely. Needless to say, the film does not end on a happy note, yet I would commend this film to anyone because the plot is intense, the cinematography is excellent, and Schrader's directing is magnificent.
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