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The Latest DVD
At Close Range


By Steve Vivona

MGM, Widescreen, Standard

In 1986 audiences were only starting to notice Sean Penn as he shook off the image of the perpetually-stoned surfer dude Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." His most impressive role to that point was opposite Timothy Hutton in the spy thriller "The Falcon and the Snowman." Christopher Walken was already known for intense, often bizarre roles, most notably in "The Deer Hunter" (for which he won an Oscar) and "The Dead Zone." It was inevitable that when these two great actors collided on film it would be a powerful experience.

"At Close Range" was directed by James Foley who would go on to direct "Glengarry Glenross" and more recently, "The Corruptor." Surprisingly this drama about a son who longs for the approval of his criminal father was not highly regarded. Having only recently viewed it for the first time I believe it is some of the best work either man has ever done to date.

Brad Whitewood Jr. (Penn) is a young man who easily fits the term "juvenile delinquent." He has little else to do but hang out with his brother and his friends in the town square and smoke pot. Along the way he meets Juliet (Mary Stuart Masterson). He falls in love with her and she becomes the only thing in his life that is good and pure.

Brad's estranged father (Walken) unexpectedly re-enters his life and suddenly he finds himself fascinated by this man he barely knows. Brad takes up with his father and soon the pair are committing robberies together, but what he fails to realize is that his father is using him for his own ends with little regard for their familial bond. That sets in motion a tragic set of circumstances that will change their lives forever.

"At Close Range" is a searing drama that benefits from the presence of two actors very serious about their trade (at least that was true of Walken at the time -- since "Prophecy III" I'm not so sure). Penn displays the full range of emotions as he tries to make sense of the complicated relationship Brad has with his father, which at times is hero worship and others is marked with disdain and disgust.

He wants his father's love and approval but that is something Brad Sr. is completely incapable of. If a character could be described as irredeemable this man is it. In fact he verges on pure evil and that is something Brad Jr. doesn't realize until it is too late.

MGM has served up a gorgeous transfer for this grossly-overlooked film whose widescreen debut is long overdue. Don't even bother with the fullscreen version! Colors are strong and vivid. The image is razor-sharp and displays no evidence of pixelation or artifacting. A trailer has been included as well.