It would be a tough challenge for a film critic to find a bad film that Australian writer/producer/director Peter Weir has made over the last four decades that span his wondrous career. It would be even tougher to pick a favorite against such an astounding body of work, but hey there’s no fun in blogging if I didn’t give it a try right? Weir’s 1993 drama “Fearless” is often forgotten amongst the critical mega-hits of “The Truman Show” (1998) and “Witness” (1984), made at a time when Weir’s previous works were already creating the impression that the director’s best days were behind him. Nevertheless, Fearless, is perhaps his most poignant and honest work to date; still managing to withstand the test of time to this day as a memorable spiritual and personal journey into the human psyche.
Jeff Bridges plays Max Klein, the survivor of a horrific plane crash who believes that he is no longer able to die after the event and so decides to live ‘fearlessly’ for the remainder of his life. This understandably begins to tear his family life apart who at first are just happy that he is alive but slowly begin to feel disconnected from Max as his outlook on reality becomes more and more emotionless. We witness Max go through a Dante’s Inferno-esque transformation throughout the course of the story, at first allowing himself to perform more dangerous feats e.g. standing on the edge of a skyscraper rooftop. Eventually we witness Max morph into a quasi-religious arbiter for the remaining survivors of the plane crash who are trying to re-connect once again with the outside world.
This is not displayed better than with the relationship Max begins with fellow crash survivor Carla Rodrigo (played by Rosie Perez who incidentally was nominated an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance) who loses her baby child during the plane crash. Max tries to help her through such uncontrollable grief but is also found to be frustrating to the other survivors from the plane due to his ‘higher than thou’ perspective. The final act is perhaps one of the more heart-wrenching and beautifully edited sequences I have ever witnessed in a film – a line that I perhaps write a tad too much on this blog but this time I am being quite serious! The way in which Weir and cinematographer Allen Daviau recreate the terrifying plane crash at the start of the film is strikingly haunting and Maurice Jarre’s clever use of Henryk Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” is so brilliantly combined with the powerfully edited onslaught that it’s almost hard to hold back tears.
Although I personally feel that Fearless is not Weir’s best film, a title that may be reserved for either “Dead Poet’s Society” (1989) or “Master and Commander” (2003), I believe that it most certainly is his most mature work. Jeff Bridges performance is one of such power and integrity you’d be hard pressed to find another example where he has managed to portray such a convincingly disillusioned human being. The story’s poetic theme’s of loss and grief are intertwined superbly with the harsh realities of life Max is continuously told by his friends and family to ‘come back’ to reality, and the moral idea of standing out from the crowd is one such motif that only a director like Weir could pull off so convincingly. Watch at your own peril but be prepared for an incredibly emotional final act that is so haunting you’ll struggle to forget seeing it. Hopefully you’ll not want to!