Written by: Rafael Yglesias
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Rosie Perez
It’s difficult for humans to orient their lives within the context of their lives reaching an end, as if death were not an actuality but an inconvenience. Fearless asks how a person can live after stepping back from the precipice.
Jeff Bridges lends his warm affect to the role of Max Klein, an architect who survives a plane crash. Our first image of him is walking calmly through a cornfield, a baby in his arms and a child clasping his hand. Dubbed “The Good Samaritan” by the media, we are told of how Max led the survivors out of the fuselage and to safety.
He’s no hero, though, but a man reawakened. Not just rejuvenated but reborn. The prickly trivialities of his profession no longer bother him, his allergy to strawberries has miraculously vanished, and the strong connection with his wife (Isabella Rossellini) seems to have dissipated, replaced with a penchant for stepping into traffic, tempting fate on the ledge of a high rise, and declaring his love for Carla (Rosie Perez), another survivor of the crash who blames herself for her child’s death.
Is Max enlightened or in an advanced state of shock? His flighty antics do nothing to quell either assumption, alienating the people in his life who have no Earthly idea how to handle him. His wife just wants her husband back, an Airline therapist (John Turturro) just wants to reach him, and his skeevy lawyer (Tom Hulce) just wants to milk the tragedy. Only Carla has any grasp on the liberation of Max’s ordeal.
Given such weighty subject matter and director Peter Weir’s track record, Fearless is exactly how you would expect him to handle the material but not how you would expect the material to be handled. Weir maintains a steady hand in directing his actors and in revealing the horrors of the plane crash piece by piece until the ending, which comes as the apotheosis of the film’s themes. The ending is a virtuoso sequence of image, sound, and music–ironic, poetic, and metaphysical enough to not betray the literary verisimilitude that precedes it. The noteworthy performances and apropos philosophical musings all suggest a film on a smooth trajectory toward themes of reconciliation and illumination but not on the level of this power. It is most certainly an ending that the film earns but one which we have no idea that it is leading toward.
Weir has a profound fascination with single-minded men willing to risk their lives for the arrogant thrill of defying nature as well as attaining the knowledge of the unknown, like Werner Herzog’s more idealistic cousin. Fearless is wrenching, beautiful, and touching without ever being maudlin. It’s also a thought-provoking reminder to take a deep breath once in awhile.