Dir: Keith Gordon. USA. 1999. 105 mins.
Prod Co: Egg Pictures. Int'l sales: Universal. US dist: USA Films. Prods: Keith Gordon, Stuart Kleinman, Linda Reisman. Exec prod: Jodie Foster. Scr: Robert Dillon from the novel by Scott Spencer. DoP: Tom Richmond. Prod des: Zoe Sakellaropoulo. Ed: Jeff Wishengrad. Mus: tomandandy. Main cast: Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Molly Parker, Janet McTeer, Hal Halbrook.
Director Keith Gordon has a reputation for making distinctive, critically admired features that often fail to find the audience they deserve. Despite some very touching elements, Waking The Dead seems likely to continue that trend. A pungent love story, its sophisticated, time-shuffling construction is distracting and its unresolved narrative elements work against its considerable emotional pull. The result may frustrate mainstream audiences rather than capture their hearts.
Travelling between the early 1970s and the early 1980s, the film recounts the attraction that overwhelms ambitious youngster Fielding Pierce (Crudup) and social activist Sarah (Connelly). Despite significant political differences, their love grows but is tragically curtailed by her death in a car-bombing incident. Eight years later, Pierce is dutifully fulfilling his destiny as an aspiring Congressman yet remains haunted by his past love. As the campaign progresses, he hears Sarah's voice, senses her presence and begins to doubt that she is truly dead.
Whilst unusual in its desire to focus on the clash between idealism and compromise in American politics, Waking The Dead is at its strongest depicting a love that transcends all barriers of time and temperament. Even if Sarah is merely a ghost from the past, it is clear that she represents the best of what Fielding felt his life might be. Between them, Crudup and Connelly conjure a palpable chemistry that reinforces the tender ache of loss that runs through this heartfelt effort.