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65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2005
The film purports to be based on true events. The saga of the Johnston gang, a "family" of burglars based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and reigned circa 1980 and then unfolded into murder happened while I was in high school. The story got big play in the Philadelphia region and some national coverage. Oddly enough this movie was filmed in Tennessee. Also noteworthy is that when this film was released in 1986 it didn't even get a theatrical run in Philly. I had to wait until it was released later that year on home video before I saw it. Bear in mind that at the time Sean Penn was not the esteemed Academy award winning actor he is now but was better known as Madonna's husband. Christopher Walken, despite the Oscar he won for "The Deer Hunter", was a marketing challenge for Hollywood. As for the film itself, it perfectly captures the essence of the events and the place it occurred. I worked near Lancaster County around that time and my late brother-in-law was from the area and came to Philly because the mills had closed there. You can imagine if you were a young person at that time the desolation you might feel and Penn perfectly captures that restlessness. You can also imagine how someone like him would be drawn to a charismatic, albeit evil, father figure as assayed here by Walken. Walken's Brad Sr. is one of his great portrayals in an impressive career. With little histrionics or tics Walken embodies evil incarnate. There is also an excellent supporting cast here with Mary Stuart Masterson as Penn's innocent girlfriend, Chris Penn and Crispin Glover as Penn's buddies, and Tracey Walter as Walken's brother as standouts. This is most definitely one of the better and more underrated films of the eighties. Credit should also go to director James Foley and scriptwriter Nicholas Kazan for not only delivering a powerhouse film but for also getting it right.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2003
One of the best films of the 1980's, At Close Range tells the true story of the Johnston Family gang (changed here to Whitewood) which terrorized Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania in the 1970s by stealing tractor parts and generally being hoods. While the story may sound not too compelling, this film gets a huge boost from some great ensemble acting. This is the movie that got me over my aversion to Sean Penn and Christopher Walken delivers one of the most believably evil people in movies. I grew up in the town this all took place in and Bruce Johnston (Christopher Walken=Brad Whitewood) lived next door to my Uncle. And my Uncle said that Walken nailed this guy's persona. Scary Thought. What saves At Close Range from being just another crime movie is the flair that James Foley brings to the direction. It's often gorgeous, thank to Juan Ruiz Anchia's brilliant cinematography and in no small part to Patrick Leonard's haunting score, keyed to the melody of Live to Tell. How come there was never a soundtrack? Do yourself a favor, check it out and be reminded that evil does exist and in forms more insidious and banal than serial killers and possessed little girls.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2006
At Close Range, which is based on a true-crime story from the 1980's, centers on the relationship between Brad Jr. (Sean Penn) and Brad Sr. (Christopher Walken). The younger Brad has a mess of a life, has no direction, and lives with his mom and a boyfriend who resents her pot-smoking grown children. Along with his brother Tommy (played by Penn's real-life brother, Chris Penn), Brad Jr. turns to his dad as a father-figure for an intro to the family business of small-time crime. Tensions run high has Brad Jr. is forced to faced the true demon his father is, and Brad Sr. has no qualms about hurting or murdering anyone, including Tommy (the bastard son) and his own son's girlfriend.

The is a gritty movie with great questions about family ties and what to do with your life when you have no real options. Most of the cast was relatively unknown at the time, so check out actors like Kiefer Sutherland, Crispin Glover, and Mary Stuart Masterson at the beginning of the careers.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2004
Juvenile deliquent Brad Whitewood Jr ( Sean Penn), spends his time in a small town with his friends pulling off petty thefts for small time cash. However, Brad is getting sick of his boring life, and longs to make some serious money. Brad's father (Christopher Walken) is the leader of a serious gang of thieves. Brad has heard the rumors about his father, but never got a chance to know him. So he decides to leave his boring life behind, and sets out to find his father so that he can learn the tricks of the trade and become just like him. At first, Brad's father appears to be a good guy filled with plenty of wisdom and helpful hints on how to make it big. But when Brad witnesses his father intentionally kill someone, he realizes that he may be in over his head.
"At Close Range" is a great film. The story is based on the real life story of killer Bruce Johnson. With the acception of the character's names being chaged, the film features an accurate interpretation of events. It is truly a shame that no one really knows about this film. It features a powerful and emotional tale of an American criminal family. The film is very captivating and draws you in from the beginning. The story is great because it combines a somewhat touching look at a son getting to know his father, with an extremely well thought out crime story. This film emphasizes the term "appearances can be deceiving" because as the story goes on, Brad begins to learn what type of man his father really is. There is also a nice romance aspect to the story because Sean Penn's character meets and falls for a woman played by Mary Stuart Masterson.
Sean Penn and Christopher Walken offer two of their finest performances in this film, which is another reason why it is a shame that no one knows about this movie. "At Close Range" shows that Sean Penn was a great actor before "Mystic River". He nails the role with his perfect portrayal of being rebellious and naive at the same time. Christopher Walken is great because he plays both the loving father and the hardened criminal so well. Walken's performance in this film will give you the creeps. It really was the perfect role for him. Overall, I would place "At Close Range" at the top of the "unknown gem" category. This film is probably one of the best crime films I have ever seen. The story is absolutely fantastic and the actors involved could not have given better peformances.
A solid 5 stars...
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"AT Close Range" is without question, one of the finest movies that the 80s produced.

Sean Penn plays a young criminal, who runs into his big-time criminal father(Christopher Walken) and joins Walkens' band of misfits. Along the way, Penn realizes what a terrible person his father is and tries to leave the gang. Walken is not liking that idea and has a different plan for Penn, one which involves his lovely girlfriend, played by Mary Stuart Masterson.

Chris Penn is also in this movie and plays Sean Penn's younger brother(that must have been diffcult for him).

This movie is sooooo great, because of Walken. His performance is undeniably creepy and overly effective. His character is drunk and doped-up for the entire movie and is always hiding his "evil" side. Walken is so capable of pulling this off, that it is impossible for me to even consider who else would have played this role had he not.

This movie is a little slow-moving, but that is simply to set the depressing, un-eventful daily life that takes place in this farm town this movie is set in. It almost explains why Penn gets involved with his father's crew---shear boredom.

There is some humor in ths film, most of which is provided by a drunk Walken character, stumbling and rambling about life.

The best line is when Penn tells Walken that he no longer wants to work with him and Walken; in a typical Walken voice, utters "Where ya gonna go...what'd ya gonna do....Food, clothes, pretty girl in your lap...you'll be crawling back to me; Daddy, Daddy, give me something"..I can rewind and watch that scene for hours.

This is truely a fantastic film and I highly recommend this one to anyone. Not suitable for young children as there is a lot of violence and some killing.

EVeryone else, I will be VERY surprised if this movie is not enoyed by all!!

HE GONE
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2000
This film is probably the best film I have ever seen and probably the reason I ended up working in the entertainment industry. From the acting (remember the scene where Walken instructs Penn to be quiet as he drowns a snitch) to the photography, to the flawless script and first-rate direction (Foley's best work..ever) - this is masterpiece in it's own right. Also take note of stunning score by Patrick Leonard that I hope is one day released as a soundtrack. And it is also a movie that allows you to see new elements every time you watch (notice Walken's gang sitting around the table at the bar designed like the last supper). With the new DVD - I hope new generations will come to realize what a small number of us already know - it does not, and has not, gotten much better than this.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2004
It still bothers me that this film was so overlooked when it came to nominations. The overall beauty of the composition-the way the director placed the characters in light and shadow- reminded me of rennaisance paintings. While Christopher Walken had tantalized viewers in many roles from small time innocent in Vietnam to his latter day incarnations as masters of pure evil, here he gave an incredibly nuanced portrait of a monster, a real, sometimes likeable monster and father.To this reviewer, one of the best acting performances ever committed to film.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2005
Better than excellent movie...both sean penn and christopher walken are more than believable as well as terrific in their roles...get this movie! NOW! understand...it's not an upper, so if you're looking for fun and breezy, you're probably not going to get it, here.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2007
Sean Penn is the coolest guy in the universe!!! I love this movie. This is one of my favorite Sean Penn movies. He plays the usual lost soul who has it out with his father. His acting is amazing and should have gotten him an Osca nod. And Madonna's first '86 hit, "Live To Tell" is the theme-song for this picture. Sean Penn is the
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2008
"At Close Range" is a classic example of a movie in which all aspects of the filmmaker's art shine; if it isn't already, it should be required viewing for students in film schools. First of all, the Kazan script, which details the growing into manhood of the Sean Penn character, skillfully combines the luridly violent with the ultimately noble, its resolution having Penn, without his becoming a goody two-shoes, credibly endorse the virtues of the civilized over the flashy and brutish.

The color photography, unexpected in a neo-noir film, works remarkably well as it turns out, being consistently beautiful (in the rural landscapes) and imaginative (for example, in its scenes of the gang members marching single file, silhouetted against a dusky sky.) Each image in the film appears to have been composed with great aesthetic care, reminding this viewer of the directorial art of such a master as William Wyler.

The acting in this movie can't be praised highly enough. Christopher Walken, always good as a villian with a sarcastic bent, here outdoes himself as a self-centered father, doing evil not for its own sake, but for HIS own sake. As his initially impressionable and then maturing son, Sean Penn combines a youth's brooding qualities with an astonishing ability as an adult male to scream and even cry on screen, becoming intensely moving in such moments.

As earlier reviewers have insisted, this film deserves to be far better known.
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