Fielding Pierce lives the life of an aspiring politician – in 1972 he’s serving in the Coast Guard (trying to avoid Vietnam in the most honorable way), and by 1973 he has entered law school. Along the way he falls in love with Sarah, a fiercely idealistic woman who devotes her life to helping others – unfortunately she’s killed in an explosion while assisting members of the Chilean resistance. Nine years later, in the middle of a congressional election, Fielding is suddenly flooded with thoughts and visions of his lost love.
User Reviews: Never mind `Traffic’. Forget `Gladiator’. To find 2000’s finest, most nail-on-the-head perfect film, you’ll need to look a little deeper. A small film that only enjoyed limited release in theaters and isn’t getting much attention on DVD either, is Keith Gordon’s latest, `Waking the Dead’.
Back in 1992, there was another under-appreciated independent film called `A Midnight Clear’ that had the misfortune of being released alongside the likes of `Unforgiven’ and `Last of the Mohicans’. For reasons I can’t fathom, this brilliant film seemingly did nothing to help Gordon’s career. His budgets stayed small, but he continued looking for the most daring and fascinating material. In 1996, he released `Mother Night’, another war-themed film, only this time set in the aftermath of WWII.
With `Waking the Dead’, Gordon outdoes himself. He casts Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce, an ambitious Coast Guard officer who’d like to be president–and he means it. His world is turned upside-down when he meets Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), who just wants to feel like she `lives on the planet’. Fielding and Sarah could not be more different, yet they cannot live without each other. Each is the antithesis of the other, which dooms their relationship and intensifies their love at the same time.
The film begins with the announcement of Sarah’s death, and continues pulling you back and forth in time. Employing this storytelling technique and maintaining the momentum of the story is a difficult task. While we see Fielding wrestle with her memory, we’re shown the powerful connection these two had during her life.
What’s more, Fielding begins to see visions of her. Some of these visions are so real, he begins to believe she’s alive. The hauntings come just as he begins campaigning for the U.S. House. It begins to affect his life and threatens his campaign. The question of whether Sarah is really alive is the dramatic carrot Gordon dangles in front of us. It’s then we realize that she was his conscience in life and remains so in death. Gordon pours it on right until the very last frame. He gets the best performance of Connelly’s career out of her, plus a jaw-dropping performance out of Crudup that’s worthy of an Oscar. Whoever was in charge of plugging this film for awards nominations must have fallen asleep at the wheel (though I see it did win an Independent Spirit award for its script).
That this film or others in the same situation get no recognition is definitely for the best. The more popular a film becomes, the more idiots that come out of the woodwork to second-guess it. So best to leave it to be discovered by those willing to seek it out. It is 2000’s crown jewel.
Grade: A (but only because there isn’t a higher grade)