Fearless (1993)

on October 15, 1993 by BOXOFFICE Staff
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Though nothing he's made in the past 10 years has been an out-and-out cinematic failure, with "Fearless," director Peter Weir has rebounded from the semi-mediocrity of films like "Green Card" and "Mosquito Coast" to remind us that he is one of the finest living practitioners of the director's craft. Grappling with some of the weightiest issues there are (mortality, the limits of human kindness), Weir has fashioned a film that is clearly intended as a work of art but which never spills over into pretentiousness--a movie that stands not only with the best of Weir's past works and among the best releases of the year, but which may very well be one of the handful of truly great works to emerge from a director of Weir's generation.

   Compas sion is a rare quality in contemporary filmmaking, but it is precisely that attribute which distinguishes "Fearless" from every current major release save for "The Joy Luck Club." The story has the simplicity and force of a fable. Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) survives an air crash and becomes a hero because, as the plane went down, Klein discovers he's been fundamentally changed by the trauma of the experience: He no longer feels fear about anything, or any of the other emotions which seem to plague all the people in his life, though he does have an unnerving tendency to flirt with destruction by walking into traffic or dancing on the edge of a skyscraper to test himself, and to keep the cork in place on his deeply bottled-up emotions.

   When an airline psychiatrist (John Turturro) hooks Max up with a chronically depressed woman (Rosie Perez, in a breakthrough performance) who lost her baby in the crash, Max's God complex kicks in and he is drawn to the idea of rescuing another crash victim. The result is an emotionally charged relationship with unexpected twists and deep emotional resonance.

   Along with Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," "Fearless" is one of the least compromised films to come out of Hollywood in years. Virtually no relationship is rendered with false sentimentality; unlike almost any other Hollywood treatment of psychological disturbance--from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "The Dream Team" to Hitchcock's "Spellbound"--Weir neither glamorizes nor sensationalizes his character's pain preferring to present Max's delusional post-crash behavior with all its human cost and complexity left entirely intact. The payoff, when it comes, is neither a complete transformation for Max nor a guarantee that his problems will ultimately be resolved.

   By his acute attention to every subtle detail of a moving and compelling situation, Weir gets more dramatic resonance out of one small, faltering step in the right direction than most directors manage to pack into their entire careers. This is a movie that takes the perilous view that we are all clinging to the planet by our fingernails and then makes it work by standing unashamedly on the side of joyous humanity, closing with a strong affirmation of the value of everyday life. "Fearless" is that scarcest and most singular of commodities: a film made in contemporary America that actually deserves to be called wise.

Starring Jeff Bridges , Isabella Rossellini and Rosie Perez. Directed by Peter Weir. Written by Rafael Yglesias. Produced by Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for language and violence. Running tim
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