25 January 2003 | mockturtle
Superb film should be a classic.
What word better describes this picture than `strong'? Strong characters, strong actors, strong directorial choices. Brilliant writing and a performance that told anyone who saw it that it was only a matter of time before Viggo Mortensen became a somewhat unwieldy household name. Everybody shines, everybody is used more intelligently than they were very often. Valeria Golino didn't have a part this good until `Frida,' Charles Bronson is given room to stretch, Patricia Arquette gives her best performance ever by far (doesn't she look a bit like Robin Wright in this film?), and David Morse is always excellent, I see that he directs TV from his bio, hopefully he'll try a feature soon. Just like `Jesus' Son' another film set around the 60's/70's split, if this film had been made in the time in which it is set it would have been a classic. As it is it hasn't even been released on DVD yet, which is embarrassing. I wasn't the biggest fan of `The Pledge' and actually didn't know that A) Sean Penn had a film like this in him, though I suspected, or that B) he made that film more than 10 years ago.
One false step was using someone giving birth for that scene. We know it isn't Patricia Arquette, it is unnerving to watch someone give birth even if you know them but especially when you have some random person splayed out in front of the camera. Immediately I was taken out of it, wondering who would volunteer to have a baby for a film. Oh, and you never ever really believe it's 1963.
Certain shots are eerily reminiscent of the haunted and empty America we see in Philip Ridley's `The Reflecting Skin,' a Viggo Mortensen film from the year before.
Greatest thing about the film is that it doesn't try too hard. With symbolism, with drama, it lets the people do their work and what happens is consistently interesting. It has a great soundtrack and more importantly music is used well within the film. The film is even more poignant considering that it come from the famously volatile, occasionally traditional occasionally misanthropic but always mercurial Penn.