At Close RangeOverview -
In 1978 rural Pennsylvania an absentee father is reacquainted with his estranged teenage sons and they become intrigued with romanticized life of crime.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Back in 1986, director James Foley made his version of a mafia movie that had an all-star cast playing roles based on real people. After 'At Close Range', Foley went on to direct 'Confidence', 'Fear', and more iconically 'Glengarry Glen Ross', but it was with this 1986 film that Foley earned his directing stripes. 'At Close Range' follows the real life Pennsylvania gang headed up by Bruce Johnston Sr. and his men who stole and killed their way through the 60s and 70s up until Bruce's son Jr. testified against him.
For the film, Foley changed the names to Brad Whitewood Sr., who is played by Christopher Walken where Jr. is played by Sean Penn, who was then married to Madonna (who has a song or two in the film herself). Penn must have loved being a part of this movie quite a bit as his real life brother Chris Penn, mother and grandmother all made appearances. Not only that, there is an excellent performance by Mary Stuart Masterson along with Kiefer Sutherland and Crispin Glover who show up as well.
It's a well rounded cast for quite a brutal story that doesn't necessarily focus on just the antics of this gang, but rather centers on the relationship between father and son that soon takes a nose dive. Again, Penn plays Jr. who decides to go and live with his mafia boss father (Walken) who begins teaching him the life of crime, slowly but surely. He is introduced to several other members of the gang, while finding a romantic relationship with a woman named Terry (Masterson). After a few crimes are committed, Jr. and a few other gang members are arrested and thrown in jail.
Sr. doesn't like this one bit, but bails everyone out, except for his son, which of course throws a wrench in their relationship. It's here where we see Sr.'s true diabolical colors come through as he has no remorse for killing anyone or even raping people close to him, which leaves his son capable of taking revenge or talking to the police. Walken is very sadistic here, maybe the scariest yo've ever seen him as he plays the cold blooded killer with a certain haunting ferocity, while trying to be charming. It's unsettling to say the least.
Sean and Chris turn in great performances that seem almost too natural. Then there is Masterson who goes for the gold here and she succeeds in every way with her tormented character. You can tell that Foley and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan wanted to show just how deep the emotional wounds go with these characters as there is more of a dialogue driven movie than an action film. You feel every conflict and small amount of tension with these characters as the story unfolds, which is something not every director can do. 'At Close Range' is one of those forgotten mafia movies that is definitely worth seeing and is difficult to believe that this actually happened.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'At Close Range' comes from Twilight Time in a clear case and is limited to 3,000 units. It has a reversible cover insert and is region A locked on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc with a six page fully illustrated booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.
'At Close Range' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This isn't the best looking video presentation I've seen, but it has some great moments. This MGM catalog film has some problems, starting with some image stability, particularly at the beginning of the movie. It lets up quite a bit as the movie goes on, but it's a little distracting. In addition to that, a lot of the film is shot in very low light conditions, which has this image suffering a bit from shadow detail and crush, as well as having the color and detail pop.
However, in the well-lit scenes, the film has fairly good detail and bright colors that pop off screen. The detail reveals fine facial features and great textures in the costumes in both closeups and wider shots. There is also a nice layer of grain that keeps this movie in its filmic quality, never really fluctuating into heavy territory. The black levels are mostly deep and inky and the skin tones are natural. There are no real major compression issues, although there are still some instances of some dirt, scratches, and debris that pop up.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix and sounds very good for what it is. This is very dialogue-heavy film that has some excellent suspenseful scenes of actions that pack a nice punch. The gunfire pops well and the other sound effects are well-layered and robust. The ambient noises also sound good too. Just don't expect a fully immersive surround sound experience here.
The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow as well, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and shrills. The score always adds to the suspense in each scene, while never drowning out any of the dialogue or sound effects, leaving this audio presentation with solid marks.
Audio Commentary - Director James Foley talks with Twilight Time's Nick Redman about making this film. They talk about casting, shooting the film, and where the story came from. There are some excellent anecdotes and information here and worth listening to.
Isolated Score Track - You can listen to the music-only portion of the film in DTS-HD MA 2.0.
Trailers (HD, 5 Mins.) - A couple of trailers for the movie.
Booklet - Here is a six page fully illustrated booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.
'At Close Range' is one of those mafia/gang movies you might have missed over the years, but that you definitely want to watch now. Christopher Walken, Sean Penn, and Mary Stuart Masterson's performance are all excellent, plus you get to see a young Kiefer Sutherland and Crispin Glover show up. Instead of following the crime capers of this ruthless mafia, we instead focus on the relationship between a sadistic and sociopathic father and his son. Needless to say, there is a lot of dysfunction here in this family dynamic, and worst of all, this was a true story. The video and audio presentations are both decent and the commentary track is definitely worth listening to. Highly Recommended!
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