Wow, Kristen Wiig was not looking good back in 1995.
Misguided, fruitless, angst-filled tale about redemption, forgiveness and guilt. My least favourite film from Sean Penn (as of 2013), though I still count myself amongst his fans. Jack Nicholson is solid in the lead role, and he’s given a few emotional moments in which to really shine, but his character’s struggle is neither engaging nor moving. David Morse is fine too, though he was better in The Indian Runner. Oddly it was Angelica Huston who received award nominations; to be honest I found her a touch wooden. There are occasional effective scenes but overall it doesn’t come together dramatically or narratively, and it’s extremely heavy-handed at times. The music is also pretty bad, especially the pieces featuring saxophone. Skip it; if you want a Sean Penn movie worth watching, stick to The Indian Runner or Into the Wild.
Sean Penn’s debut as writer and director is a sensitive, meditative drama anchored by strong performances from David Morse and Viggo Mortensen as a pair of brothers. The interplay between them has such an authentic feel to it. Penn’s direction is dynamic, bringing a sense of heightened tension and drama to the somewhat depressing material. I believe this is the only film I’ve seen that’s based on a song: Bruce Springsteen’s Highway Patrolman, which I’ve now listened to and found quite beautiful and moving (particularly after watching the movie). Incidentally, the musical choices in the movie are excellent. A couple of odd aspects: Valeria Golino, who I always thought of as French (probably because of Hot Shots and Hot Shots: Part Deux) but who is actually Italian (and part Greek), plays a Mexican for some reason; and the kid who plays Morse and Golino’s little son is super cute but doesn’t seem to age despite the movie taking place over at least nine months. Look for a young Benicio Del Toro in a very minor role. Overall, I highly recommend this movie. It raises some interesting questions about goodness, commitment, obligation and the bonds of brotherhood, and leaves you pondering whether you’re a hero or an outlaw; strong or weak; and most importantly, a bear or a message.