Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
When they hear of others suffering an accident, people like to say, "I know how you must feel." But one wonders how true that is, considering how dramatically different we respond to such incidents. Some walk away from wrecks in tears, while others are left strangely blasé by the event (as I was when I was struck by a car in high school). Even the tales of heroism we see emerging from these tragedies aren't always the most hopeful yarns spun, as director Peter Weir demonstrates in his 1993 drama Fearless. Debuting on Blu-ray through the Warner Archive Collection, Fearless is about an individual declared a Good Samaritan by society but whose efforts to help others cope with their heartbreak only distance himself from his own loved ones. The film deals in a complexity that inspirational survival stories don't adopt very often (especially when they're major studio productions), waxing philosophic and posing tough questions where other movies call it a day after announcing their good intentions.

Jeff Bridges plays Max Klein, an everyman who's just experienced a life-altering catastrophe. He's lucky enough to have lived through a horrific plane crash, but rather than immediately head home to his wife (Isabella Rossellini) and son, he opts to hit the road and tap into his newfound fearlessness. No longer is Max restricted by any sense of caution, unafraid to act on impulses to visit old flames or munch on strawberries despite a supposed allergy. He's a changed man with a desire to help others reclaim their lust for life, including Carla (Rosie Perez), a fellow survivor traumatized by her baby boy's death. But not only does Max's obsession with hoisting people up by their bootstraps cause a rift to form between him and his family, it also drives him to put his mortality on the line and hurl himself into dangerous situations, to test the apparent invincibility he believes the fates have given him.

The temptation to cast its hero as an infallible martyr must have been a doozy for the makers of Fearless to resist. I can picture some executive reading Rafael Yglesias' screenplay (based upon his own novel), envisioning an uplifting sapfest with Oscar all over it (which actually did come true, in the form of a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Perez). But one also images that presumably cigar-chomping suit taken aback when they got to the part where the protagonist is painted as the most screwed-up character of the bunch. In his quest to help others, Max comes to perceive his "invulnerability" as a challenge from God, egging himself into increasingly risky situations just to see if anything can effect him. Max performs much good but at the expense of his own happiness, tortured by the question of why he got to walk away from the crash. Throughout the film, the customary tears are shed, but they're earned, thanks to Weir recognizing the complicated nature of guilt and believing in unexplainable forces. He captures an appropriately somber atmosphere and sticks to it, forgoing easy chances to sensationalize the crash sequence and turn Max's journey into a series of shallow, feel-good pit stops.

Painted in perhaps too broad of strokes are the closest things Fearless has to traditional villains. It is a rather great shock to go from Bridges' Max being dealt with tenderly to Benicio Del Toro as Perez' uncaring husband -- hoping to make some money off of their son's death -- and John Turturro as a weaselly psychiatrist. Their inclusion makes sense (in the latter's case, it's to show that there's more to Max's situation than a couch trip can hope to crack), but these characters come across as boo-hiss bad guys in a story that doesn't really call for it. Fortunately, they don't amount to that glaring of a nuisance, allowing the plot to progress as delicately as it needs to where it counts. Bridges delivers a compelling performance, slipping comfortably into the role of average schmoe whose life has been rocked on a potentially cosmic scale. Perez earned much acclaim for her turn as a grieving mother, but she doesn't merely sit and bawl her way into our hearts, her character's arc as fascinating to watch as Max's. Rossellini also does solid work in a tricky part, defying "nagging wife" stereotypes to convey the heart-wrenching confusion of a woman whose spouse has nearly forgotten she exists.

The Warner Archive Collection presents Fearless in 1080p High Definition, in a 1.85 : 1 aspect ratio, which should please fans who've only had Warner's previous, fullscreen DVD to watch for the past decade or so. Having gotten used to the Archive bringing colorful, splashy musicals to Blu-ray over the past year or so, the HD boost that Fearless received isn't as obvious in comparison. There is a good deal of haze throughout the film, but it's intentional, reflecting Max's discomfort in attempting to readjust to domestic life. The presentation as a whole is solid, with no glaring issues but no stand-out, knock-your-socks-off sequences (save for maybe the crash, which Weir shows in greater detail at the end).

Fearless arrives with an English, DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (and accompanying English subtitles). Even with the "disaster" aspect of the story, kabooms are kept to a minimum; this is a dialogue-driven production, no doubt about it. Even the climactic crash sequence is dominated more by Maurice Jarre's solemn score than by the thunder of the plane being torn to pieces. Like the video, the soundtrack is satisfactory, albeit lacking any particularly outstanding sections to justify a die-hard Blu-ray enthusiast's purchase. If you're buying Fearless, it'll be because you really like Fearless.

A theatrical trailer (2:02) is the sole bonus feature.

I'm sure the admirers that Fearless has collected since it first opened had a more decked-out Blu-ray release in mind than what Warner Archive has delivered. True, some more extras would've been nice, but with the audio and picture both marked improvements over what was on the original DVD, one can't complain too much. $20 may be a steep price tag for casual collectors, but those who've stuck by Fearless over the years will be pleased to know that, at the very least, it looks and sounds as good as it has in twenty years.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.