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Gritty, dark, exceptionally vivid drama
cchase26 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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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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karen-1286 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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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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Stark, terrifying crime cautionary tale
At Close Range is a sadly forgotten crime drama from the 80's that is ripe for re watching and praise from new generations. It's a diobolically suspenseful cautionary tale about sins of the father, burying the past, and the violent, tragic things that can happen when you don't leave it buried. Sean Penn plays Brad Whitewood, an aimless young man who along with his brother (Chris Penn, Sean's real life sibling) tries to reconnect with his estranged father, Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken). Brad Sr. is a a charming, hospitable and all together evil son of a bitch, a small time rural crime lord who makes do by hijacking expensive farming equipment. Brad Jr. is enticed by his father's easygoing alpha male aura, and takes up keep with him, if for nothing else than because he has nothing better to do. Big, big mistake. Walken turns out to be a sociopathic monster, coldly turning on his two hapless sons quicker than a venomous cobra. In fact I was reminded of the scorpion and the rabbit story while observing his character. Here is a man so evil that no matter how familiar or close a person is to him, he Wil turn sadistic and destructive on them at the drop of a hat, simply because it is his nature. Walken is a demon daddy in the role, turning a character that could have fallen into clichéd melodrama into a nuanced, intriguing fiend. The Penn brothers, still very young here are tragic and realistically relatable. The supporting cast is also fantastic, with Kiefer Sutherland, Crispin Glover and Mary Stuart Masterson all diving excellent turns. Films this prolific, provocative and tragically entertaining shouldn't get overlooked, especially deadly, downbeat, serious minded scorcher of a thriller like this. Highly recommended.
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"Is this the Family Gun, Dad?"
PredragReviews30 April 2016
The look of the film says rural poverty. There are broken-down cars in the front yards and trash in the streets. People don't say much during supper; they're too involved watching the television. The main story is based on the real life story of killer Bruce Johnson. With the accepting of the character's names being changed, the film features an accurate interpretation of events. It is truly a shame that no one really knows about this film. It features a powerful and emotional tale of an American criminal family.

This is a gritty movie, with great questions about family ties and what to do with your life when you have no real options. Most of the cast was relatively unknown at the time, so check out actors like Kiefer Sutherland, Crispin Glover, and Mary Stuart Masterson at the beginning of their careers. Credit should also go to director James Foley and scriptwriter Nicholas Kazan for not only delivering a powerhouse film but for also getting it right.

Overall rating: 8 out of 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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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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Family Business? (spoilers)
vertigo_149 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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One of the more realistic portrayals of criminals
drystyx7 March 2007
This movie is about criminals, but it is a more realistic portrayal than many of the more famous movies in which the action and characters are comically drawn (such as spaghetti crime movies), and the events, although never fully explained, have a ring of logic about them, and don't lose the viewer (such as the Godfather movies do). Walken portrays a very vicious criminal with a true criminal mind. Penn plays his son, who tries crime out for a living, and brings some of his friends into the business with him. Like all modern gangster movies, what they actually do is never explained, but the explanation of each person's part is better understood by the viewer than most movies of this genre. Walken is much like the criminal who really exists in our country. He can come across as fairly glib, but never hesitates to commit senseless acts of horror. He gives the excuse early on that he has some reason. The first real horrible act is murdering a man he claims is a snitch. But after a while, it is evident he just concocts these reasons to perform murders. As in real life, the criminals always find easy prey and then call such prey "snitches", in order to rationalize their actions. In real life, the real snitches are left alone and are feared by criminals, because a snitch is just someone who refuses to knuckle under. Meanwhile, the Walken character wipes out those most faithful to him. The most realistic movie of this genre in the last thirty years.
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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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Brilliant Acting - Dark Subject!
wow8824 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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Strong Acting From Lead Actors
eibon0916 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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A chip off the old block?
hitchcockthelegend21 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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"I see money...everywhere I go I see money"
don250716 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
....I see things that can move...anything that can move has got my name on it" says Brad Whitewood Sr. (played by Christopher Walken) to his son, Brad Jr. (played by Sean Penn) as he drives his son through the Chester County countryside in SE Pennsylvania. The sociopathic / psychopathic Brad Sr. runs a burglary ring that steals lots of things but primarily farm equipment, all things that can "move" with a ready market via a "fence." He readily flashes his money around his son and "obtains" a car for him that comes "mostly with 'borrowed' parts, but the registration is legal", so Brad Jr. is happy that he can impress his new girlfriend. Brad Jr. is an aimless youth with what would appear to be poor prospects; his character is largely morally flawed, given his admiration for his father, but it's not completely formed yet, and his girlfriend has the potential for helping him shape his character in a positive way. The interaction between father and son, between a career criminal and a young man on the fringes of criminality, and the son's evolving perception of his dad from admiration to doubt to fear, is the focal point of this film.

The film is based on the Johnston gang that ran wild through the rural parts of SE Pennsylvania in the '60s and '70s. Some reviewers have described it as "loosely" based on that family gang, but I'm from this part of Pennsylvania and I vividly remember reading about their crimes during this period, and this film seems to have most of the important details correct. I well know the rural road where some of the young gang members were killed and buried. The Johnston gang were hillbillies from NE Tennessee who moved to Chester County, Pennsylvania in the '60s, developed a multi-million burglary ring, taunted the local police, and when sloppy young gangmember "wannabes" started to get subpoenas, they viciously closed ranks and killed five teenagers and buried their bodies in the countryside. What's so horrific is that Bruce Johnston Sr., the model for the film's Brad Sr., killed his stepson, killed his son's girlfriend (days after raping her), and had his son (unsuccessfully) targeted for death although he did receive two bullet shots to the head. While in prison, he was accused of murdering an inmate by burning his cell.

Walken does a marvelous job of portraying this monster. He displays both the charisma he undoubtedly had and that made his brothers readily accept his leadership and cunning, as well as attracted his sons, nephews, and their friends to a life of crime, as well as the pure evil he apparently was born with. Walken's performance is one of the best in portraying a truly wicked man that I've seen outside of film noir. Sean Penn's Brad Jr. realizes he may have bit on too much when he sees his father have a police informant drowned, but he's trapped in the gang and at the mercy of his father.

This is not a film for everyone; it's a dark film without much redeeming virtue being displayed, even the women seem to be passive enablers. But I give it a 7 for its depiction of amoral greed and murderous self-protection.
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No honor among thieves
mls418218 May 2021
Wow what a downer. A well done, well acted story of the underbelly of society. Stay six degrees away from trouble because if you enter their circle, no one can help you.

On a lighter note. Penn's dye job is hilarious. Under bright light it look the same shade as Betty White's. Putting eye makeup on Walken doesn't HELP.
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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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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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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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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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filled with a sense of impending doom
SnoopyStyle17 October 2014
It's 1978 in rural Pennsylvania. Brad Whitewood Jr. (Sean Penn) is an angry young man. He lives with his brother Tommy (Chris Penn), his mother, grandma, and her mother's boyfriend for the last few months. They can best be described as white trash. He has an eye for Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson). His absentee father (Christopher Walken) runs a crime family and drops by to give the family money once in awhile. After a fight with his mother's boyfriend, he goes away to his father.

The first thing one notices is the great Madonna song. It gives the movie the perfect mood. There is a desolation and a sense of impending doom running all throughout this movie. Its bleak tone fits the based-on-a-true-story movie. The acting is close to perfect. The story doesn't have a good flow but its randomness feels like a true story.
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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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"Is that the family gun, Dad?"
Hey_Sweden18 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Sean Penn delivers a solid, mostly under stated performance as Brad Whitewood Jr., living in Pennsylvania in the late 70s with a mother (Millie Perkins), grandmother (Eileen Ryan), and half-brother Tommy (Chris Penn). Brad and Tommy's estranged father Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken) fatefully re-enters their lives, and they become intrigued with the criminal life that he leads. Ultimately, they will realize that this rediscovered father figure is as toxic as he can possibly get. Brad Sr. will stop at NOTHING to protect his interests, including murder.

This imperfect but still pretty powerful drama was inspired by a real-life case, and it's noticeably downbeat and violent. Something this viewer felt was lacking was a stronger connection to Brad Jr. and Tommy, although they are basically okay kids with a mildly punkish streak. As we can see, they're young enough to be impressionable, and the magnetic Brad Sr. messes up their lives for the worse.

Director James Foley (who also cameos as an assistant D.A.) crafts a reasonably stylish and good looking film, shot in widescreen on various scenic locations. The haunting (if also fairly repetitive) music score is courtesy of Patrick Leonard, who also wrote the classic theme song "Live to Tell" with Madonna. The use of violence is, for the most part, restrained, except for one shocking act of brutality late in the picture, when Brad Jr. is confronted with the depths of his dads' depravity.

Excellent casting in just about every role helps. The real-life Penn brothers have good chemistry, and it's nice to see them in scenes with Ryan, their mother. Mary Stuart Masterson has much appeal as the under-age girl to whom Brad Jr. is drawn. Familiar younger actors like Crispin Glover, Kiefer Sutherland, and Stephen Geoffreys of "Fright Night" turn up, as well as some of L.A.'s top character actors: Penn family friend R.D. Call ("Waterworld") as Dickie, David Strathairn ("Good Night, and Good Luck.") as Tony Pine, J.C. Quinn ("The Abyss") as Boyd, and Tracey Walter ("Repo Man") as amiable chatterbox Patch. Walken dominates it all with a performance that may not be free from standard Walken eccentricities / line delivery, but is disturbingly effective in its creepy charisma.

Overall, "At Close Range" does work viscerally, and stays with you after its final moments.

Scripted by Nicholas Kazan, based on a screen story by him and producer Elliott Lewitt.

Seven out of 10.
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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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