The Film: Fearless (1993)
The Principles: Director: Peter Weir. Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Benecio Del Toro, Tom Hulce, John de Lancie
The Premise: Max Klein (Bridges) is one of the survivors of a terrifying plane crash. He quite literally walks away from it, leading a string of survivors to safety, bizarrely calm and collected. He is hailed as a hero by the other survivors, including one strange little boy who clings to him like the father he wishes he had.
But Max reacts erratically, even cruelly to those around him. He destroys his marriage and his relationship with his son. He acts out in risky and daring ways, convinced he’s invincible. His bravado and soul-searching leads him to Carla (Perez), a fellow survivor whose little boy died in the crash. She’s catatonic with grief and guilt, but Max’s irrational and unruffled attitude make them a perfect pair. As their friendship progresses, it becomes apparent that Max hasn’t come to terms with what he experienced. There’s a reason he is so collected and cool about everything, and it’s not because he’s “embracing life” and rediscovering the world. It’s something darker and sadder, but ultimately uplifting and affirming all the same.
Is It Good: It’s very good. I’m a shameless Weir worshipper, and he doesn’t do nearly enough work for my liking. Fearless may be a good example as to why — these films must take a hell of a lot out of him. He’s not Terence Malick, layering philosophical ponderings upon on another, and then setting them to trees and grass, but his films are never a walk in the park. They’re thoughtful and heartbreaking, they take their time, and they’re often set in delicate or complicated environments.
It’s a talky film and often a frustrating one. The film kind of sells itself as this “man who rediscovers life, and spins around on building ledges” story, but it’s really not. It’s an examination of grief more than it is a celebration of life. There are a lot of heavy scenes that don’t even involve Bridges, but circle on the other survivors, or family members they left behind. Why do some people survive these things, and others don’t? How do you cope with that?
Is It Worth A Look: Absolutely. It’s one of Bridges’ best performances, for one. And the opening sequence is (or should be) absolutely legendary for its unearthliness. It’s the most unlikely and disturbing introductions to the chaos of a plane crash that you’ll find.
And the end! Oh man. I watched this last night, fairly certain I’d seen it before, but none of it was ringing much of a bell in my memory…until the end. I always had a flash of a scene (and usually when I boarded a plane) of Bridges helping a little boy tuck his head to his knees, but I couldn’t remember where it was from. It’s from this. I’m sorry, LOST, Fearless takes the “holding hands, we’re all in this together” plane crash prize.
At worst, it’s a little sentimental and indulgent, but it asks enough tough questions and beats its characters up enough to be forgiven. (It’s also very 1990s — we’re litigation heavy, but it had a special slime in that decade.) Bridges’ Max isn’t the nicest of guys. He’s complicated, and unlike a lot of films that demonize the family — come on, this guy is hurting, quit being assholes — you end up sympathizing with them just as much, if not more. He’s shoving them away, and they have every reason to be hurt and jealous. It’s very mature and nuanced.
Oh, and Rosie Perez? I take back all the eye-rolling I ever did at you. You are an actress!
Random Anecdotes: The plane crash was a full scale, extremely expensive recreation of one that occurred in 1989. Several planes flying over actually reported it to the FAA because no one thought to notify the poor pilots and passengers who must still be traumatized.
In a sad and weirdly pertinent pop culture angle, Bridges modeled his character on his good friend Gary Busey, who had just survived a motorcycle crash.