This is a truly wonderful film. It is set in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1954, and is based on a novel written by Dan Wakefield, who comes from Indianapolis and was 18 at the time of the story. The film was also shot in Indianapolis, but not in the centre of town, which these days is a desolate ghost town, like all other such Middle American cities whose cores have been destroyed by the insidious rise of the suburban malls. Wakefield also wrote the screenplay, which was a good idea, because he did an excellent job and it brought added authenticity to this funny/sad story. The director is Mark Pellington, best known for his magnificent and deeply unsettling thriller, ARLINGTON ROAD (1999). Everything about this film clicks, the direction is superb, and the two central performances by Jeremy Davies and Ben Affleck are positively inspired and utterly sensational. It may be the best thing Affleck has ever done. But Davies is even more outstanding, and really deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of a pathetically introverted young man oppressed by the smother-love of his ultra-religious mother and a boring nonentity of a father. His body language expressing inadequacy, and his mastery of the inarticulation of helplessness, are a triumph of the art of acting. The story begins with two young soldiers returning from their two years' draft service in the Korean War. One, a corporal, has been stationed in Japan, and is named Gunner (Ben Affleck). The other, a private, is named Sonny (Jeremy Davies), who never got further than being posted to an Army office in Kansas City. They meet on the train home and realize they had been at high school together. Gunner was an athletic hero of the school ('Gunner' was a common nickname for any champion high school basketball star in those days who could score lots of goals, though this is not made clear in the film) and Sonny was a nerdy weakling who did the school photography and took photos of Gunner in his moments of glory and triumph playing football, basketball, and baseball. Gunner has grown up now, keeps talking of the influence which being in Japan had on him, expresses an interest in Zen, and has no further interest in his old crowd of high school admirers. Instead, he feels a closer bond with Sonny, as an old 'Army buddy' (even though they did not serve together), and despite the fact that Sonny barely knew him at school. Sonny can hardly believe that the former school hero now values his friendship, having never previously even noticed him. Thus commences a life-determining friendship between the two boys. They go round together, drink beers and cocktails, have double-dates, try to get girls drunk with extra vodka ('because you can't taste it') and seem unable to relate to any of the other boys they know, who have somehow lost their relevance. Gunner has a sexy and irresponsible mother, played to the hilt by Lesley Ann Warren (who never had any trouble getting men excited), but no father (we presume he has died). Both boys come from families which are comfortably off, but Gunner's background is more affluent. Sonny's mother is fanatically opposed to the heathen influence that the godless Gunner might have upon her son, tempting him to do such horrid things as drinking beer and going out with girls. Sonny learns to stand up to her. Sonny has a desultory affair with a local girl named 'Buddy', who is sensitively and expertly played by Amy Locane. She is not as pathetic and needy as she tries to appear to Sonny, since she is two-timing both Sonny and another boy whom we never see. Gunner has a serious romance with another girl called 'Marty', played by sultry Rachel Weisz. She stresses her Jewishness and her family don't like her going out with a non-Jew. There is a shocking scene where Gunner's mother goes into a wild anti-Semitic rant and Gunner realizes for the first time that she is not merely eccentric but is actually quite crazy. Marty leaves for a new life in New York and Gunner decides to follow her. But what will Sonny do? Will he remain crushed at home or will he too lash out and go native in Manhattan? He has little choice at first because he has to spend three months in plaster because of a car crash, and during that time his mother intercepts the letters from Gunner in New York. The reason why this film is so good is because of the feeling and passion which have gone into making it. Everyone concerned seems to have been motivated to be authentic and real. More of that from Hollywood, please!
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