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A superb Bridges turns in Fearless performances

Directed by Peter Weir.
Written by Rafael Yglesias.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Isabella
Rossellini, Rosie Perez,
Tom Hulce, and John Turturro.
Loews Copley.

By Scott Deskin

Plane wreckage covers a deserted country road, which is swarmed with paramedics and relief workers; a blanket is thrown over a charred body still fixed to its passenger seat; the paint on the side of the plane's fuselage is melting from flames.

Bridges' character, Max, is in a daze. Instead of going to the hospital, he walks away from the crash site and checks into the nearest hotel to clean up. "You're not dead," he proclaims while examining his injuries in the bathroom mirror. He rents a car, visits the crash site (which is in the California desert), and drives to Los Angeles to visit an old friend. It is not until he is located by the FBI the next day, to identify a picture of his business partner who died in the crash, that he even thinks about going home.

When Max arrives home, he is apparently oblivious to his brush with death or to the affection that his loved ones heap upon him. Increasingly, Max becomes obsessed with the prospect of defying death, even when it means alienating his wife, Laura (Isabella Rossellini), and his son. He even refuses to lie on behalf of his partner's widow so that his lawyer (Tom Hulce) can reap monetary compensation for a wrongful death suit.

Max somehow believes that he has already passed through death (as revealed in several flashbacks to the plane before the crash) and that, somehow he is invincible. He now eats strawberries, not fearing that as a child he almost died from an allergic reaction from eating them. He has somehow broken his shell, come out of his fear of flying, and of everything, after the crash. It is what the airline psychologist, Dr. Bill Perlman (John Turturro), deems as a feeling of invulnerability similar to the highs experienced by Vietnam vets in action (the flip-side to post-traumatic stress syndrome, Perlman's specialty).

Another survivor of the crash has not been so lucky. Carla (Rosie Perez) was traveling with her 2-year-old son on the plane and somehow loses him in the wreckage when the plane crashes, shortly thereafter bursting into flames. Three months later, Carla is in a near-catatonic state over grieving for her son, and Perlman decides to pair Max with her so that the two of them may find a way to help each other emotionally. They form a deeply spiritual friendship that leads them both to reevaluate the lives they have been living in the aftermath of the crash, so that Max may save Carla's life and she may help save Max's marriage.

Director Peter Weir (Witness, Dead Poets Society) does a masterful job of capturing the attention of the audience. Despite a few lapses of emotional restraint (for example, too much is made of the strawberry metaphor), Weir directs with assurance and makes good use of the camera, especially in the opening sequence. All the performances are superb, but Jeff Bridges turns in a remarkable performance as a man who has been reborn into someone who is seemingly the master of his fate. His performance should stand out as one for consideration around Oscar time. Fearless, in short, is an unconventional story that stands out for its desire to compel as well as entertain.