Cinemalphabet: F is for Fearless (1993)
Director Peter Weir’s Fearless is one manipulative piece of cinema. It is the kind of movie that people who don’t have the greatest taste or a wide body of cinema knowledge often cite as an example of compelling and thought-provoking storytelling. And on paper Fearless certainly appears that way.
But in actuality, the film feels about as thought-provoking as getting an eyelash stuck in your eyeball and with a similar level of discomfort. Sure some will cite it is Fearless‘ narrative intention to make the audience feel some level of discomfort, but I’m not taking about the kind of discomfort a strong, well crafted film tackling disturbing subject matter often elicits. I’m talking about the pain one gets in the shoulders and neck from cringing through an entire screening of the film.
So Fearless is about a dude – well, actually The Dude – his transformation from a jerk who doesn’t give his family much attention or time into a jerk who survives a horrific plane crash who doesn’t give his family much attention or time. Bridges seems to be channeling a mixture of his Starman character and the jerk he played in Against All Odds, devoid of the clarity demonstrated in either film. It’s a big, janky, hot mess of a role that Bridges makes a tad more interesting simply because he’s the actor playing it.
Rosie Perez is as good as her Oscar nomination would have you believe, as the grief stricken mother who lost her child in the crash. Perez and Bridges have a strange, hypnotic chemistry that is nearly always ruined by another character when it’s about to get super interesting. Those other characters include an oddly cast Benecio del Toro and Isabella Rossellini who play the confused and somewhat exhausted spouses of the Perez and Bridges’ characters.
Fearless could have been a great film, but in the end it is an undisciplined and preachy film instead. Weir never seems to trust the audience to figure out which moments are to be experience with our “poignant” hats on and which moments deserved our wry smiles. It is that manipulation mostly created with overwrought music and a bowl of Chekov’s strawberries that most grate my nerves. I wanted to just experience the film and its themes without being instructed how to do so. Maybe some people enjoy that sort of tight control of a story, but I find it leaves me cold and indifferent. If I am being told implicitly how to think and feel about characters and themes there is little reason for me to spend time with the characters and theme in the first place. Part of my enjoyment of cinema comes from being allowed to make the connections on my own.