At Close Range (1986) from Tuna

At Close Range (1986) is a crime drama with a very impressive cast, and is based on a true story. Sean Penn does what he does best, playing a bad boy teenager, who gets back together with his father, Christopher Walken. He has met Mary Stuart Masterson, and wants an easy source of income so he can be with her. He knows his father is a shady character, and always has money. His father is actually head of a gang of rather serious criminals.
His father is not keen on the idea of letting him into the gang, but suggests that he start a youth gang with his friends, steal tractors, and sell them to his dad. The appeal wears thin when he is shot in the face with birdshot. He is eventually let into the gang, and things are going well, until he witnesses his father killing a suspected stool pigeon. At that point, he wants to make one more big score, then escape with his girlfriend. Arrested during the "big score," he is help on high bail by a district attorney hoping to get his father.


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The father begins to panic, and starts killing other members of the youth gang, including Penn's brother, then rapes Mary. This is my first serious problem with the film. If you really wanted to get Penn's girlfriend on your side, keep her from talking and get her to help keep Penn quiet, is raping her the best approach? Penn has finally had enough, and turns states evidence against his father in exchange for immediate release. The two lovers are about to escape, when Dad's gang catches up to them.

I noticed a serious continuity error while watching the film (which says something about how engrossed I was in the plot), and checked the goofs link at IMDB. IMDB talks about the reflection of a boom mike in the wind-wing of a truck. If you look carefully, there is something reflected in the wind wing that could be part of a boom, or nearly anything else. The error I spotted is far less subtle. While Walken is raping Masterson, we see him tear her blouse off in shreds, leaving her in a bra and jeans skirt, then we see him lifting the skirt, but the blouse has reassembled itself on her. Finally, we see her screaming under him with the blouse gone again. I considered the possibility that they had inserted a double, but, after examining the entire scene frame by frame, here is what I think happened. As originally filmed, Walken through up her skirt, pulled of her panties, tore off her blouse, then raped her. My guess is that there was too much exposure for the censors, so they re-cut, and assembled the now mangled scene with the magic blouse.

There is no actual exposure from Mary Stuart, but she is far too cute to pass up completely. We do see her panty when looking up the leg of her pants, and the top of her breast in bed with Penn. The exposure comes from Janie Draper playing the part of the "anonymous stripper" in a fairly long and well lit scene.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1, and fullscreen 4:3

  • no major features

The film is highly thought of. Maltin is the lone dissenter at 2 1/2 stars. I agree with Maltin. The film never grabbed me. Much of the time the pace was painfully slow, a lot of the action seemed unmotivated, and the editing, as show above, had some serious problems. The biggest thing for me, however, was that they assembled a great supporting cast including Mary Stuart Masterson, Chris Penn, David Strathairn and Kiefer Sutherland, then underused all of them. If they would have done more to explore the dynamics of the family, the gangs, and the love story, it would have made for a far better film. It is unclear to me why this film is so fondly remembered, especially given that

From my viewpoint, finding the magic self-healing blouse was the highlight of the film.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Maltin 2.5/4, Apollo 73/100

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. only five reviews

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8, Apollo users 72.
  • With their dollars ... it was made for $6.5m, and only grossed $2.347m.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

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