AT CLOSE RANGE-United States-1986

at close range 001

Sean Penn as Brad Whitewood, Jr.

Sean Penn as Brad Whitewood, Jr.

Christopher Walken as Brad Whitewood, Sr.

Christopher Walken as Brad Whitewood, Sr.

Crispin Glover as Lucas

Crispin Glover as Lucas

Tracey Walter as Patch (Photo not from film)

Tracey Walter as Patch (Photo not from film)

Christopher Penn as Tommy Whitewood

Christopher Penn as Tommy Whitewood

Directed by James Foley

Story by Elliott Lewitt and Nicholas Kazan

Screenplay by Nicholas Kazan

Christopher Walken once said that he’s made movies that people have never seen. He expanded further on that statement by saying that he’s made movies that even he hasn’t seen. I don’t think that At Close Range would fall into the latter category, but it could easily fall into the former. This one always seems to be the one movie, that when you’re having a conversation about Walken and his movies, that people will shake their heads and say, “No, I don’t think I ever saw that one.” It’s sad, because it’s easily one of Walken’s best performances as an actor and a damn good movie in its own right.

Life in a hick town…

Sean Penn (Mystic River, I Am Sam) is Brad Whitewood, Jr. Brad lives with his mother and grandmother and brother Tommy in a small town in Pennsylvania. Brad is muscular and his hair is coiffed in the image of a bad boy and he does the things that a typical teenage boy might do in a town where there’s not much to do in the first place; i.e. hang out with his brother Tommy (real-life sibling Christopher Penn, Reservoir Dogs, True Romance) and his friend and drive them around town checking out girls and instigating harmless trouble. Life is always the same in Brad’s town; a place where you go nowhere and you enjoy the ride whether you like it or not.

But one day Brad’s father walks in…

Let’s rephrase that last phrase a bit, shall we? Brad’s father, Brad Sr., doesn’t just walk in; Brad Sr. walks in like he owns the place. It doesn’t matter whether he does or not. It doesn’t even matter if he’s welcome there; Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter, Catch Me If You Can) is slick redneck charm wearing cool shades and a suave smile and he’s wrapped in a leather vest and blue jeans and looking like he fucking owns the room, the house, the street and the damn world in between. Brad Sr. is a thief and he lives the good life while people like Brad’s mother sweat for every penny they earn and when Brad Jr. takes one look at daddy and his life there is no turning back for that boy. “Daddy, please take me under your wing and teach me how to steal tractors and crack safes. I want to eat lobster while everybody else is eating hamburger steak. I can be a good student, daddy. I know I can.”

Then there was the girl…

I would be completely sexist if I were to say that it’s always the pretty girls that get you into trouble but there’s just no avoiding it because this time it is the pretty girl that gets Brad Jr. into trouble. Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson, Benny and Joon, Fried Green Tomatoes) is sweet and pretty with a cute smile and coltish legs and she loves Brad Jr. and they want a life together and the only way they are going to have a life together is if they have money and the way they are going to have money is if Brad Jr. can become a part of daddy’s gang of thieves. It’s a vicious circle with a lot of bumps and grinds with some rape and murder thrown in for good measure.

Did I mention murder?

Like many thrillers before it, murder is the pivotal scene in At Close Range. It’s murder by drowning; Brad Jr. is a witness and Brad Sr. looks at him and he puts his finger to his lips and he says shhhh…

I could go on and on about At Close Range. I could rave about the acting, which from Penn and Walken is amazing and from the rest of the cast is average at worst. I could rant about the story which, while it drags a bit in places, had me drawn like a moth to a flame. I could rant about this and I could rave about that; but if I tell you all about the movie you’re not going to want to see it for yourself. You’ll be just like all those other people who say “No, I don’t think I ever saw that one.”

At Close Range deserves better than that.


Actress Eileen Ryan, who plays Sean Penn’s and Chris Penn‘s grandmother, is in fact the boys’ real-life mom.

Based on the actual crimes of Bruce Johnston, Sr., in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

When Christopher Walken works with guns in film, he checks them himself before each scene for safety reasons and his own personal ease. During the scene when Sean Penn sticks a gun in Walken’s face, Walken checked the gun before the scene started. Before the director had the chance to say “Action”, Penn ran off camera and shouted, “Give me the other gun!” He immediately returned to Walken and started the scene. This is the cut that made it into the movie, and Walken was really terrified.

The role of Brad Whitewood, Sr. was originally offered to Robert De Niro, who turned it down because he felt the character was too dark.



5 thoughts on “AT CLOSE RANGE

  1. Yeah…..great film! Walken is, as always. brilliant. When he plays “evil”, he has the most casual way of doing it. It is truly scary and it does not matter who is on screen with him, your eyes are always on him and him alone. What an actor!!!

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