At Close Range

Sean Penn as an aimless, impoverished, sensation-seeking teenager who comes under the spell of his long-estranged father (Christopher Walken), a professional thief. Father-son relationships were about the only subject that early-Reagan-era films (from Kramer vs. Kramer to Harry and Son) were willing to take seriously, and Nicholas Kazan's screenplay (“based on a true story”) creates a compelling psychology as it builds up to its highly charged confrontations. Yet James Foley's direction suffers from the same rock video-itis as his earlier and infinitely more trivial Reckless: the tricky back-lighting, the abstract compositions, and the obtrusive editing effects work against the sense of realism and emotional immediacy the project depends on. Foley's dark, glossy, hyped-up style is much more effective in describing the son's seduction by his father's falsely glamorous world than it is in evoking the boy's revulsion when he begins to back away from dad's murderous ways—a mise-en-scene this glitzy has no mode for disillusionment. Foley does get some admirable high-intensity Method performances from his cast, though there are perhaps a few too many overemphasized and ultimately distracting eccentric turns among the supporting players. With Mary Stuart Masterson, Crispin Glover, Tracey Walter, and Christopher Penn (1986).

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