|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
Chapter 1 sets us down in a cornfield moments after a commercial passenger jet has crashed there (sound and picture are both at their best here). We meet survivor Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), who is physically almost unharmed by the ordeal; we learn that he has both directly and indirectly saved a number of his fellow passengers. Max feels just fine, but suddenly feels compelled to tell the absolute truth as he sees it on all topics; he is also driven to test the limits of his mortality by walking through traffic, standing on skyscraper ledges and crashing his car. His wife (Isabella Rossellini) and young son are alternately bewildered, hurt, furious and scared. Meanwhile, Max reaches out to Carla (Rosie Perez), a young woman who lost her little boy in the crash and is now teetering on the edge of sanity.
‘Fearless’ is by turns fascinating, enigmatic, striking and off-putting. The opening is a grabber; so is Max’s surprising version of therapy in Chapter 23 and the actual crash depicted in Chapters 29 and 30. Instead of the expected sound effects, director Peter Weir contrasts the shocking imagery with the gentle strains of the Gorecki Symphony #3, reproduced lushly on the DVD audio track.
Bridges is complex and commanding as Max, authentic at all times. However, both the performer and the script by Rafael Yglesias (based on his novel) hint at revelations on matters that remain ambiguous. Why, for instance, is Max so driven to behavior that verges on cruelty to his family? If he were truly fearless, he wouldn’t feel obliged to prove himself via death-defying feats, so perhaps he seeks to disconnect himself from life by distancing himself from loved ones, but this is never defined. Also, perhaps in an attempt to avoid diluting the intensity of Carla’s grief, the filmmakers have given her few other personality attributes apart from religious devotion. She doesn’t entirely hold up as an individual in her own right, but seems instead primarily a catalyst for Max’s quest and a lightning rod for our sympathy.
Intriguing points are raised here about what reactions are "appropriate" when confronted with trauma; the subect is handled here with intelligence and bite. Interspersed throughout the film with increasing detail, the crash sequences are riveting, full of nuance and devoid of phony sentiment, so strong that we don’t doubt the incident’s transforming effect on those who live through it. However, these scenes alone cannot account for the ultimate impact of ‘Fearless,’ which profoundly moves and disturbs even as we may consciously question or even dismiss the characters’ actions.