Waking The Dead

on March 22, 2000 by Annlee Ellingson
   A romance film relies on the charisma and chemistry of its leads to convince the audience that they do, indeed, belong together--and will be together even after death parts them. In this, "Waking the Dead" writer-director-producer Keith Gordon succeeds resoundingly.
   Beginning with a car bombing that kills activist Sarah Williams ("Dark City's" Jennifer Connelly), "Waking the Dead" moves back and forth in time (on occasion less fluidly than others) between the early 1970s, when she meets and falls in love with politically inclined Fielding Pierce ("Jesus' Son's" Billy Crudup), and the '80s, after Sarah's death, when Fielding is offered a chance to run for the Senate. With his chiseled good looks and polished background, he's a shoo-in--until his beloved begins to haunt him and he suspects that either she really is alive or he's losing his mind.
   The film's best moments are set in the past as the two discover young love despite their differences. Sarah is an uncompromising revolutionary, going so far as to travel to South America to help oppressed Chilean radicals escape. Fielding, on the other hand, is serving in the Coast Guard when they first meet, later going to law school in an effort to change the system from within. He's willing to make sacrifices for the good of the greater cause. Neither retreats from his or her position, at times embarrassing the other when circumstances for an ideological eruption are less than optimal. But it's their convictions that inspire their love and respect for each other.
   Told from Fielding's point of view, the film is carried by Crudup, who not just portrays but inhabits a character who runs the gamut of extreme emotion from the cool collection of a political candidate to the desperation of trying to protect his determined lover to the uncontrollable insanity broiling just beneath the surface. Gordon mirrors these emotions in his filmmaking, using slow motion, hand-held camerawork and elaborate pauses to reflect the emotional resonance of a particular scene. Starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. Directed and written by Keith Gordon. Produced by Keith Gordon, Stuart Kleinman and Linda Reisman. A USA release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and language. Running time: 103 min
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