APRIL 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 4


Waking the Dead
Rules of Engagement

Oscars provide a revealing look into Hollywood's complex personality.

Wonder Boys: A wonderful depiction of life and its disappointments.

The Whole Nine Yards: Cookie-cutter crime caper boasts quality acting, even from Willis, and an intricate plot.


Short Takes
Grading from A-F

Rules of Engagement RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (R):
William Friedkin, who years ago directed "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection," brings an almost pro-military story into mainstream theaters with this rather indistinct Marine legal drama. We've seen this sort of military code and ethics dissection before (remember "A Few Good Men"?); here Samuel L. Jackson gets to portray the intense, embattled warrior instead of Jack Nicholson, and this movie is quite sympathetic to military scrutiny especially at the hands of pencil pushers and "war game experts" with no combat experience.

What you see on the surface is pretty much all you get: Jackson is his characteristic, eyes-bulging, seething self as Colonel Terry Childers; a typical Tommy Lee Jones fights relentlessly to discover the truth as Colonel Hodges, the man Childers begs to save his honor. In this trial of a Colonel who fired upon allegedly unarmed demonstrators, many obvious issues and bits of evidence are overlooked and ignored by the screen-play writers that should have ended the trial quickly (in actuality, this military action problem wouldn't have created as great a national blitz). But the acting is superb and the underlining ethical issue is intriguing -- and that's more than most movies can claim. B+

- Kevin Ridolfi

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Waking the Dead - Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Molly Parker   Love Knows No Bounds
Even after death, the grip of love remains strong (and confusing)

Rating: A-

Starring Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Molly Parker, Janet McTeer, Paul Hipp, Sandra Oh, Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane. Directed by Keith Gordon. Written by Robert Dillon, based on the novel by Scott Spencer.

Rated R for sexuality and language. Running Time: 105m.


Also starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly:

Inventing the Abbotts (1997)
When you want it all but can't have it, there's only one way to handle life...invent it.
Buy It today

Also starring Jennifer Connelly:

Higher Learning (1995)
Winner: 1996 Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor (Laurence Fishburne).
Buy It today


Hardly a routine thriller or drama, Waking The Dead, Kevin Gordan's entry in this year's Sundance Film Festival, is more grounded in reality than the previews might suggest. The film's implications are foremost political though its gimmick, perhaps, is spiritual, or at least universal. Behind it all lives a unique, honest story of love and its bounds.

Gordon questions whether love can survive death, but succumbs to a more emphatic parody of what happens when love is forsaken for vocation. Both Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) and his one-and-only Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) want to save the world, though their strategies differ: Fielding longs to work within the system -- he wants to be senator -- whereas Sarah wants to dismiss the government entirely.

Crudp (Sleepers, Inventing the Abbotts)plays a clean-cut congressional candidate who first encounters his religious, strong-willed, war detesting other half while in the Coast Guard in 1972. Two years later, Sarah is killed in Chile while purporting her cause of peace. By 1982, a jaded and miserable Fielding has decided to run for senator. He cannot escape the thought that Sarah is alive, that it is her voice indeed mingled with the wind outside, that the familiar looking strangers he encounters are in fact his dead lover. Paranoia soon eliminates any focus he had on the election, and he appeals, unsuccessfully, to his sister for validation that Sarah is actually alive.

Fielding campaigns through towns and winter months and snowy, stark, empty streets. His turmoil is articulated through the setting, the ambience, the cold white space, in a manner that is similar to the Cohen brothers' Fargo. Alienation and confusion are further emphasized through Crudup's wonderful facial expressions and subtle shifts in emotion. He is quite alone, if not in blurry snow, then in creepy nighttime. All the while he is haunted by thoughts of Sarah and the threat that he may never find closure. This is not a formula film about lost innocence and futile attempts to reinvent it -- these characters in the early '70s are attached but still hindered by war thousands of miles away, and the decade that passes emphasizes the imperfection of their relationship.

The manipulation of time through flashback allows a fluid unraveling of events. We learn of Sarah as Fielding remembers her. The passage through the years is credible, due to '70s attire and set decoration that is not overdone or too flashy. Much of the lighting is either natural or a grand imitation. Perhaps this is why Fielding' hallucinations seem so real. At points it is hard for the audience to discern whether his visions are a symptom of obsessive longing or actual apparitions. Surely we are supposed to be as confused as Fielding.

Sarah is a woman who's strength comes from her own mind and abilities, and not due to superpowers or overwhelming sex appeal. This is not a typical movie character, and Connelly (Higher Learning, Inventing the Abbotts) is superb. As is Ed Harris (Apollo 13), who has a tiny but necessary part. The soundtrack is far from outstanding, especially given the array of music that could have been used from 1972 and earlier -- though to be fair, there is some Joni Mitchell thrown into the mix.

To be frank, even amidst the possibility of ghosts, this is the most convincing love story I have seen in awhile.

LAURA MACCABEE is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine.

PICTURES copyright © 1999 Universal Pictures.


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