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Fearless

(Peter Weir, USA, 1993)


 


Fearless is among the most remarkable and underrated films of the '90s, a definitive wake-up call from director Peter Weir to all those who had wearied of his work during the preceding decade (Dead Poets Society, 1989, Green Card, 1990).

It is a healthy sign indeed when the American system can turn out a film like this which breaks almost all contemporary storytelling rules in order to explore a highly unusual, frankly philosophical content. The brilliant screenplay by Rafael Yglesias is reminiscent of Michael Tolkin's The Rapture (1991) in the risks it takes and the surprises it creates.

Max (Jeff Bridges in one of his best performances) is a survivor of a horrendous air crash, an event which is revealed to us only gradually over the course of the film by Weir. Convinced of his immortality, Max acts like a Nietzschean Superman, inhabiting a realm of experience and sensation far removed from ordinary life.

Weir's great achievement in this movie is to get completely inside the strange headspace of Max without passing simplistic moral judgement. Max's crisis is that of a New Age Guy so in touch with his inner self that he goes berserk, shunning his family and friends. The film captures the freaky, unpredictable course of his impulsive actions, especially in an unforgettable scene where he involves his fellow crash survivor Carla (Rosie Perez) in a wilful car accident.

For all its philosophical and metaphorical richness, this is a movie rooted in the physicality of the everyday a level of reality that returns with full force in the final scenes. Perhaps only in the depiction of Max's marriage does the film falter dramatically, since Isabella Rossellini is far too limited an actor to make us believe that the hero's salvation depends on her. In every other respect, however, Fearless is a towering, unique film.

MORE Weir: The Truman Show, Picnic at Hanging Rock

© Adrian Martin November 1994


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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