“People don’t so much believe in God as they choose not to believe in nothing”.
I’ve always believed that Jeff Bridges was an incredibly underrated actor. Long before he finally won an Academy Award, Bridges was doing fantastic work in diverse and challenging roles. One of the best of the lot was the character of Max Klein, a man who narrowly survives a horrific plane crash and subsequently finds that he sees his world and his mortality very differently. The first words we hear Max say to himself are “you’re not dead”. And while he continues to insist that he believes this throughout the rest of the film, it’s clear to us watching that his mind is actually trapped in some sort of other-worldly purgatory. Max begins to tempt fate and do things that risk his life in various ways. His psyche is split between this life and what he perceives to be the afterlife, decrying the existence of God in one breath, while defiantly challenging a higher power with the next. He feels that he’s more grounded and alive than he’s ever been, walking away from the crash with all that he has left – the taste and beauty of life. And yet he spends his time drawing visions of corridors of white light and pressing on the tender wall he now knows exists that separates one world from the other.
Along the way, his therapist pairs him with Carla, another survivor portrayed by an equally excellent Rose Perez. She lost her infant child in the crash, and has ever since lost the will to live herself, feeling responsible for her child’s death. Max’s presence gives Carla a much-needed counter-balance to her own self-destructive state, and she in turn plays a pivotal role in bringing Max back to the world he’s partially left behind on his journey of self-discovery. One of the casualties of that choice is Max’s wife, played by Isabella Rossellini. She plays straight person to Max and Carla’s dysfunction, and she has a hard time coping with the kind of partner Max now needs her to be at this transitional phase of his new life. As Max’s dangerous behavior escalates, it threatens to destroy their marriage, and begins to estrange his own son in favor of a young boy he befriended on the plane. The lawyer of Max’s late business partner is also in the mix as a memorable supporting character, played almost whimsically by the terrific Tom Hulce, whom many will remember as Mozart in Amadeus. All he’s concerned with throughout the film is bettering his client’s case with the insurance company, and it’s one of the few points of humor we get in the film.
Also worthy of note is Benicio Del Toro as Carla’s possibly-too-opportunistic husband Manny, and John Turturro as a psychiatrist assigned to Max by the airline following the crash. Every side character is given their own opportunity to bring something unique and real to the film, fleshing out a complete picture of a very traumatic period in the life of two specific survivors. Many different methods of coping are explored throughout Fearless (not just Max’s), an endeavor I found quite admirable and realistic. By the time the movie reaches its final half hour or so, we’ve been through death and life and death again with many of these people, and have seen how they each deal with it in their individual, uniformly natural ways. People’s reactions to the end of Fearless will undoubtedly come down not only to how invested they’ve become in these people, but how much they’ve gotten out of Max’s psychological discovery. While Max asserts that he’s “not dead” within the first 10 minutes of the movie, the ensuing two hours continually clarify that he likely never fully meant it. His proclamation is, as such, ultimately empty. But when he finally says “I’m alive” in the end (and I’ll leave it to everyone to watch the film to discover whether he truly is), we know for certain that he finally, truly believes it.
Video: How’s it look?
Fearless finally arrives on blu-ray courtesy of Warner Archive. This was one hi-def title that I was really excited to see announced, as it was one of my last laserdisc holdouts. For some odd reason, Warner released this film in widescreen on laser, but then opted for a full-screen only version when the film hit DVD. As it’s one of my favorite films, I simply couldn’t support that decision, so I’ve not owned it again until now. Now, it’s important to note right off the bat that this film’s color scheme and shooting style really doesn’t lend itself to impressive visuals. The palette is filled with problematic hues like grays and browns. Much of the film also seems to have a fairly soft look, owing (I believe) to the camera work and not the transfer. I don’t know if these aesthetic elements were an artistic choice, meant to mirror the hazy, dreamlike and bland state that Max experiences between life and death throughout the movie, but it doesn’t exactly add up to an eye-popping disc. Now, that’s not to say that there’s not much to recommend here – especially for those who never owned the laserdisc. First and most importantly, you’ll finally be able to see this terrific film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (technically, it’s framed here at 1.78:1, but close enough). Black levels are strong, and I didn’t notice any kind of artificial tinkering like edge enhancement to detract from the experience. I just don’t think this is the type of film to really show off what blu-ray can do. Fine object details remain a tad murky and unrefined, but again, I doubt it’s any real fault of the disc itself. While this transfer won’t turn any heads, it’s nice to see a release that’s simply true to the source and doesn’t try and spruce things up with digital manipulation.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Don’t be fooled by the DTS-MA 2.0 track on this blu-ray. Cue this movie up through your receiver and decode the stereo surround and you’ll immediately notice that this is one of those cases where stereo surround actually delivers what it says. There is actually more directionality on this 2.0 track than I’ve heard in some lesser, front-heavy 5.1 efforts on other discs. Now again, this disc isn’t exactly demo material, but those who only owned the previous DVD version will find much to appreciate here. About the only thing I didn’t think would have really elevated things more was a more pronounced bass presence. Given the subject matter, it could have helped a lot. That said, dialogue is clean and clear, and ambiance is terrific considering the channel limitations. As I said, I owned this film on laserdisc for a long time and was always impressed with how that release sounded. I feel that that experience has been faithfully and adequately replicated here, which makes this fan very happy.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Being that this is a Warner Archive title, I was expecting a fairly bare-bones release, and that’s exactly what we’re given here. The original theatrical trailer is included and that’s it.
The Bottom Line
Fearless is a challenging film. Not everyone will understand it, but it’s definitely in my top ten films to come out of the 1990’s. It’s well-acted, expertly paced, and hit every emotional note faultlessly. When the credits role, you’ve either gotten onboard with the introspective ride that Weir was attempting to take you through or you haven’t. Personally, I think the film works on every level. Bridges and Perez in particular knocked it out of the park in their respective roles here (Perez even received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her turn as Carla). This is one of those movies that I can watch every year and gain something from the experience each and every time. I’m a sucker for a good character study, and Fearless is, in my humble opinion, one of the very best that Hollywood has ever given us. It’s at once a thought-provoking, moving, and incredibly rewarding viewing experience that’s as life-affirming as any film I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.