At Close Range is the story of a mob family, but strip it down to the basics and what we have is a son’s desperate attempt to earn his father’s love and respect. Based on true events, Brad Whitewood Jr (Sean Penn) is living in a run-down house with his half-brother, Tommy (Christopher Penn), his grandmother (Eileen Ryan), and his mother (Millie Perkins). When estranged father Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken) reenters his life, the older man introduces his son to the criminal arts. It’s clear that Brad Sr. is an evil man who would kill his own flesh and blood if it meant getting ahead, but he clearly enjoys the fact that his son is starting to idolize him.
Brad Jr. isn’t really criminal material, but life doesn’t seem to be offering him much else, so he learns how to steal cars, tractors, guns, and the like, eventually forming his own gang to conduct his own heists. Over time, adoration turns to disdain as Brad Jr and his half-brother learn that there father is not just a thief, but a murderer and a rapist. Things turn relentlessly brutal once Brad Sr. no longer trusts that his sons and/or their gang won’t rat him out to the authorities, resulting in a bloody family feud.
At Close Range is a brutal film. I’ve watched it three times over the years and it has yet to get easier. Much of the violence is somehow connected to Terry (Mary Stuart Masterson), a young girl Brad Jr. falls in love with. A naïve girl, she becomes an unwitting pawn in a blood feud between father and son.
For some, the violence and cruelty that runs throughout much of At Close Range will be too much to take. However, if you can stick around, you’ll see Christopher Walken at the height of his acting powers and a young Sean Penn giving the kind of dramatic performance that would later lead to five Oscar nominations and two wins.
Directed by James Foley and adapted by Nicholas Kazan (son of the famed director Elia Kazan), At Close Range paints a picture of human nature at its bleakest. While Brad, Sr. is ruthless everyone around him is weak, beaten down by a life of poverty and despair. In this world, crime seems like the only way out.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the 1080p transfer is sharp throughout, with a consistent color palette. Skin tones look normal and contrast is a bit idiosyncratic at times, but good. Black levels are above average and the image appears free of any real damage.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix makes excellent use of Patrick Leonard’s background score, providing a nice level of fidelity without interfering with the dialogue. Atmospherics are pretty well contained to the center speaker and dialogue is clean and clear throughout. There are no age related artifacts to report.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director James Foley Hosted by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman: The two men discuss various aspects of the film, providing an informative overview of those involved in the production, the story and some behind-the-scenes tidbits.
- Isolated Score Track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:57)
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (HD, 2:06)
- Six-Page Booklet: Contains a nice selection of color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s perceptive analysis of the movie.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via their website at www.twilighttimemovies.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.