The Crossing Guard (1995)

Drama
Jack Nicholson, David Morse, Anjelica Huston, Robin Wright
Freddie Gale is a seedy jeweler who has sworn to kill the drunk driver who killed his little girl.
  • 16 Nov 1995 Released:
  • 16 Nov 1999 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Sean Penn Writer:
  • Sean Penn Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

A Haunting, Strange Tale Of Forgiveness8/10
A strange movie. That's what I thought when I first saw this a decade ago. It was one of those films I thought about a couple of days later and couldn't get out of my head for a short while. When I saw it again a few years ago I almost had the same reaction.

What's different about this film is the message: forgiveness. That's really what it's about and it's done in a touching way even though most of the characters in here are anything but nice, sentimental people.

If you can enjoy a good character-development story and not get too dismayed by a depressing scene or two this movie will reward you with some intangibles that are hard to describe unless you've seen this.

Jack Nicholson, David Morse, Angelica Huston and Robin Wright make for an interesting foursome, I'll say that. Nicholson, particularly, impressed me with an untypically-subdued role for him. (Note: The profanity and nudity in here was totally unnecessary and the film would have been better without it. The story was powerful enough on its own.)

If you don't like this movie, I would understand that, too. It's not an easy film to like. It will either haunt you or put you to sleep. It haunted me.
Outstanding Film!5/10

I puzzle at those reviewers criticizing this film, which to my mind is a tour de force. Of course, I do volunteer work with dying folks and help train aspiring grief counselors to deal with the traumas that life all too often brings us. I can only assume that those who so quickly dismiss this powerful meditation on grief and remorse have yet to experience these real life emotions. Something by Schwarzenegger may be more to their taste, or one of the ubiquitous comic book recreations we encounter most summers with cardboard characters and pseudo emotions.

Sean Penn is plumbing much deeper regions of the human psyche, and doing so with actors of rare talent, fully capable of sharing with us their heart rending vulnerabilities. Few actors have the courage to go to the places these actors visit as they face suffering almost too great to bear. I'm reminded of the more recent Mystic River for which Sean Penn received an Academy award for best actor, a movie that explores equally traumatizing events. It was heartening to watch the joy with which this award was greeted by his fellow professionals who have long acknowledged this man's genius both in front of and behind the camera. This movie deserves a much wider audience of discriminating movie viewers.
The Crossing Guard (1995)7/10

Most films you see nowadays are directed from a very logical standpoint: the plot is mapped out and it's followed to a T, and the ending neatly wraps things up so that when you leave the theater, you feel relieved that things worked out. But every now and then, a film-maker will make a picture from a purely emotional standpoint. Rather than creating a structured outline, he'll rely on the ambiance of each scene to compose a more true to life -- if at times incoherent -- piece of storytelling. The Crossing Guard is such a film. Directed by actor-turned-film-maker Sean Penn (whose first effort was 1991's The Indian Runner), it is a meandering, ponderous movie about grief and the value of life, and while at times it seems unbalanced, the end result is quite stunning. The film opens with what may appear to be a perplexing correlation: first we see a woman sitting silently in a support group for parents who lost their children, and then we cut to a man drinking heavily in a strip bar. The woman is Mary (played by Anjelica Huston), and the man is Freddy Gale (played by Jack Nicholson), and together they were the parents of a little girl who was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver named John (Wilkes?) Booth (played by David Morse, who was also in The Indian Runner). And while they may be dealing with it in totally different ways, they are both having difficulty coping with the loss of their child. But when John is released from prison, Freddy suddenly announces to his now ex-wife Mary that he will kill him in an attempt to relieve their pain. The premise is indeed stale, but by showing it in such a different light than its similar predecessors, Penn manages to create genuine intensity from what would otherwise be another Death Wish sequel. Nicholson delivers yet another amazing performance, and after seeing him in so many tough roles, it is truly shattering to watch him break down in tears. And while I personally felt that Morse was miscast, he still does a terrific job with the role. Anjelica Huston and Robin Wright Penn are top-notch, but honorary mention must be given to Priscilla Barnes ("Three's Company," Licence to Kill), whose subtle grace makes her near-insignificant character beam with humanity. Also, keep your eyes peeled for an appearance by Piper Laurie (Children of a Lesser God, "Twin Peaks") as John's loving mother. In the end, The Crossing Guard is a film about family: all of the characters' actions are done out of love, which brings Freddy's dilemma over whether or not to avenge his daughter more close-to-home than it might otherwise have been. Penn's direction is excellent, but at times he tries a little too hard to provoke emotions that don't come naturally. The Crossing Guard isn't quite as powerful as it wants to be, but it comes very close. It's one of the most over-looked pictures of the decade.

SIDE-NOTE: In a scene where Priscilla Barnes is pouring her heart out to Nicholson while he's lying in bed smoking a cigarette, there's a close-up of his hand, and you'll notice that he has a ring on his ring finger. Later on in the film, when he and his ex-wife are talking in a diner, the ring is still there ... but it has switched to his pinky finger. This is the kind of absolute characterization that makes The Crossing Guard more special than you might think it to be upon first glance.

Grade: B
Peculiar and exciting work from Sean Penn8/10

"The Crossing guard" is not a completely typical or usual thriller. When it comes to actors David Morse has an incredibly nice, gentle and friendly looks. It's really hard to imagine him playing twisted criminals and psychopaths. On the other hand Jack Nicholson's looks - as we all know - are one of the most dreadful and devilish there is. His sinister eyes and evil expressions were the vitality of the movies like "The Shining", "The Witches of Eastwick", "Batman" or "Wolf". The secret behind the suspense of "The Crossing guard" is to put these two men in the same film and make Nicholson's character Freddy Gale hunt down David Morse's John Booth. The latter is responsible for the death of Gale's daughter Emily but he's not a bad man. He made a mistake, went to prison for it and is trying to keep on living with dead girl on his conscience. This splendid, interesting idea works perfectly. The last picture of "The Crossing guard" is very emotional, very touching and it wraps the whole film beautifully together. Thrilling "The Crossing guard" is Jack Nicholson's finest performances of the 90's and probably the best one of the three movies Sean Penn has directed so far. Watch it!
A powerful and compelling story, filmed well and with some great performances.9/10

A powerful and compelling story, filmed well and with some great performances.

Sean Penn seems to have managed to level the actors here, with David Morse, Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson putting in great performances and none of them stealing the scenes from the other. I found this very surprising as I expected Nicholson to flood the screen, as he so often does with such little difficulty.

However, the emotion between Huston and Nicholson in the latter half of the film during the coffee shop scene is so powerful to watch. Huston is such a wonderful actress, and Nicholson shows some emotional depth that I haven't seen before, or rather, not felt with his performance before.

The story is written and planned extremely well, with tension rising slowly and almost imperceptibly, until the final day. I found myself caught from the opening scenes of the counselling session cut with the drunken, partying Nicholson, right through to the pivotal moments of the main characters lives.

It is a fantastic way to address this subject. To examine it from both sides, and keep each side with its own sympathies and understandings. Cleverly your sympathies and hatred are swapped throughout the story.

I hope there's more to come like this.