Fearless (1993)

16 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When you feel for even a moment that you are unbreakable and nothing can kill you, there is always something to bring you back to reality. But how far is that “something” from this fearless state? Take Max Klein. After surviving a brutal plane crash, a new feeling suddenly overcomes him. He is no longer afraid of anything because he feels that no one or nothing can kill him anymore, since he survived the wreck. How far does it go? He finds himself walking along the edge on the roof of a tall building and joyfully dancing about because he believes he won’t fall. And on top of that, he no longer feels true love with his wife, Laura. So how far into this new, potentially dangerous mental state is this going to continue?

In “Fearless,” Max (played by Jeff Bridges) has not merely lost his heart in his faltering relationship with his family. But he has also lost his soul, practically. And the reason he does all of this stuff not merely to prove how far his relieved fear of dying will go, but also because he might be able to snap himself out of it. It’s as if he’s putting himself through real pain (or wants to put himself through real pain) just to snap him out of this inner pain. Because, surviving this horrific disaster now has this man questioning whether or not he deserved to survive and deserves to go on living. In some way, he’s between the living and the dead.

As for Laura (Isabella Rossellini), the main problem with this relationship between her and Max now is that she simply doesn’t understand what he’s going through. Only one person in Max’s life gets it—a young woman named Carla (Rosie Perez) who also survived the crash and has lost her infant child in the incident. She can’t connect with her own husband (Benicio del Toro) and also, along with Max, can’t be reached by the airline therapist (John Turturro). But they do understand each other because they feel more or less the same way as survivors. They spend a lot of time together, as Max convinces her to follow him on whatever he has in mind next. It’s not necessarily a romance between them, but it is emotional for both of them. And through Max, she eventually finds a way to wake up from her own morbid state. Although, with Max, it’s unclear for a long time whether or not he himself can awaken.

Max is not necessarily an appealing leading character in the traditional sense—in fact, there are times when he’s downright horrid. But you do feel for him throughout the movie because of his trauma and what it has led him to. It makes more complex in the sense that he thinks he’s fearless, but we know as well as his wife that he isn’t indestructible. And director Peter Weir shows the film in a way that we as an audience are pulled into this somewhat hypnotic state so that we can find some way of understanding what others can’t. it’s that feeling of omnipotence that most of us look for in movies.

While I really think “Fearless” is a terrific film, I can’t help but feel like it could have been a lot better if it further developed some of the subplots, such as the relationship between Max and his son in contrast to the relationship between Max and a kid who survived the crash and looks to Max as a hero; that pretty much goes nowhere. Maybe if the film focused more on that and omitted some details that would like to make us think they were going somewhere special but don’t, such as the group-therapy session midway in the movie or even the character of a conniving lawyer (Tom Hulce) who serves hardly a purpose in the story.

But its true focus on Max and his fearless state is very effectively handled and it practically is this movie. It’s handled very well with sharp direction by Weir and a strong performance by Bridges. The ending of “Fearless” is absolutely fantastic. Without giving too much away, it truly contains the essence of enduring an out-of-body experience. It’s emotionally-driven and really feels like you’re in that medium of life and death with Max as he goes through his final part of the state. That scene left a big impact on me, and this film as a whole works even better because of it. After watching it, I found myself thinking more about the story. Watching it a second time, I was even more enthralled with everything that was happening. “Fearless” is a movie that I will definitely not forget anytime soon.

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