A Character Study That Goes Beyond10/10
The inability to `reconnect' in the wake of a significant emotional event, especially one involving a close encounter with death, is examined by director Peter Weir, in `Fearless,' a gripping drama starring Jeff Bridges as a man emotionally adrift after walking away from an accident (a plane crash) that by all rights should have killed him, but inexplicably did not. And Weir goes on to take what is essentially a character study one step further, beyond the inevitable `why me?' that one who survives such an unimaginable episode in their life must necessarily make, to probe the psyche of the survivor and attempt to sort out the ensuing catch-22 of the mind, wherein the incident has manifested a schizophrenic sense of guilt/euphoria born of fate's decree that he, among those now dead, should live. It's a lot to assimilate; a taxing physical and psychological challenge necessitating an expanded utilization of the human capacity, and the subsequent negotiation of the attendant recast attitude and aptitude. All of which Weir succinctly captures through keen observation and his own intuitive grasp of the human condition.
As the film opens, we see Max Klein (Bridges) making his way through a cornfield just outside of Bakersfield, California; he's carrying a baby in his arms and has a young boy by the hand, leading him determinedly through the haze of smoke from the crash. There are others following Max, as well. And even before they emerge from the field, coming upon the crash site where rescue workers are already furiously attempting to sort it all out, there is a detachment about Max that is readily discernible. He surveys the situation calmly, as if seeing it all through the eyes of someone else, as if he were outside of himself, observing rather than experiencing. Then after locating the baby's mother, he simply walks away from it all, never looking back.
Two days later the F.B.I. finds him in a local motel. They put him together with a representative from the airline, who offers him a train ticket back home to San Francisco. But Max wants to fly home, which astounds the rep. `But your wife,' she says, `Told us that you didn't like to fly, even before the--' `The crash?' he replies. Then with assurance he tells her, `I want to fly home on your airline. But I have a request; I want to go first class.' And we know now, without question, that Max is not the same man that he was before the crash.
In his previous films, such as `Picnic At Hanging Rock' (1975), `Witness' (1985) and `The Mosquito Coast' (1986), Weir established himself as a director who knows human nature and is adept at exploring the emotional depths of his characters, in stories dealing with ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. As he does with this film, Weir sets a deliberate pace and allows that extra moment that means so much to the development of the characters. It's a subtle approach that adds depth and resonance to his films, and allows his audience to experience, rather than just watch, the drama as it unfolds. And he understands (as few directors do-- especially Americans ) the impact that `silence' can have, as in the scenes here shortly after Max leaves the crash sight. First, Weir shows us a solemn Max, driving alone through the desert at high speed, gradually awakening to the joys of living, to that `feeling' of being alive, as he sticks his head out of the widow and lets the wind hit him in the face, slapping him with the reality that he is, indeed, alive. But then we see Max parked by the side of the road, sitting on the ground, pensively staring out at the vast expanse of desert and at the low, blue mountains in the distance. The absolute silence Weir effects allows us to share Max's thoughts at that moment, to get inside his head as he picks up a bit of dirt and examines it closely, then as he looks up again at the nothingness/everything that surrounds him. As Max reflects, we reflect with him; and in that precise moment, that necessary connection between Max and the audience is firmly established. It's a quiet, and brilliant, piece of filmmaking.
Through many years and many movies, Jeff Bridges has demonstrated time and again his consummate ability as an actor who can `touch' his audience, and he continues to evolve with every new film. Max is perhaps his most challenging role ever, as it requires a vast emotional range to make this character convincing and bring him to life believably. And Bridges succeeds magnificently, and on a number of levels, with an inspiring, Oscar worthy performance. The finesse with which he conveys his moods and emotions is extraordinary; he enables you to `feel' his displacement, share his compassion, sense his empathy and know his anger. Quite simply, Bridges makes Max Klein a character you are not going to forget.
As Laura Klein, Isabella Rossellini gives a remarkable performance, as well, as the wife given the gift of her husband's life, only to have to suffer his state of `limbo,' as she desperately attempts to penetrate the defense mechanisms that have given him a renewed appreciation for the touch, taste and beauty of life, all of which she is unable to share because his experience has taken him to a place she cannot possibly go. Her portrayal is astute, convincing and some of the best work she has ever done.
Also turning in a strong performance, for which she deservedly was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, is Rosie Perez, as Carla, a fellow crash survivor with whom Max forms an especially strong and significant bond.
Written for the screen by Rafael Yglesias (adapted from his own novel), beautifully filmed by Allen Davian, and with a haunting score by Maurice Jarre that so sensitively enhances the drama in an understated way, `Fearless' is an example of filmmaking at it's best.