“Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly give passionate performances” raves Leonard Maltin of Playboy Magazine, about this story of love, ambition, and the price of power. Filmmaker Keith Gordon delivers a psychological mystery of haunting proportions. When one man’s 70’s idealism confronts his 80’s aspirations, he begins an emotional roller coaster that brings ghosts back to life and asks the ultimate question: Does love conquer all, even death?
Waking the Dead 8.5
‘Waking the Dead’, despite its name, isn’t a zombie film – it’s actually a love story with a political flavour and a little bit of a supernatural element thrown in as spice. Think ‘The Candidate’ meets ‘Ghost’.
It follows Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup), a congressional candidate, as he struggles with a sudden spiritual crisis: on the verge of moving into the political arena, he starts wondering if he is losing his soul – driven as he is by his own personal dream and outside pressures. Further complicating matters is that he is confronted by the ghost of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), his activist ex who died tragically and that he hasn’t forgotten since.
The ingenious twist in this film is in the “haunting” element of the story: it is somewhat unclear if the young woman really died and is returning to ease Fielding’s mind at a key point in his life, faked her own death and is incapable of staying away from him after all this time, or if she’s simply the embodiment of his conscience, his inner voice.
Is she but a memory? Is she one of the ideals that Fielding has latched on to and is unable to separate from? Is he allowing himself to move on? Or is Sarah returning to provide him with this release?
I have my reasons for believing that it’s the latter, but I will leave that open to interpretation, as the film is relatively broad and could be enjoyed from various perspectives (no doubt the novel expands on this in some ways, but I have yet to read it. Although… I quite like that it’s ambiguous like this – I hate to have it all served to me on a platter, like many North American films do).
The performances are mostly rock solid: Crudup provides an award-worthy one, making his character ambitious yet lovable, idealistic yet realistic, congenial and rock solid when doing business and then manic and vulnerable in his personal life. Jennifer Connelly also has her moments, although she tends to play her roles the same more often than not. And Hal Holbrook exudes confidence and authority, like he usually does.
The only weak spot, in my mind, is Molly Parker. I hate to say it, because I’ve always had a penchant for the Canadian actress, but in this film she looks like she’s on stun most of the time; her role seems ill-fitting and it doesn’t feel natural for her at all. I’d love to know more about this because I know that she is capable of inhabit the most complex characters one can imagine. Perhaps this one was too one-dimensional for her?
Nonetheless, the film is a strong piece, featuring extremely moving moments and a gripping concept. I have seen this film on at least three occasions and I’ve found myself completely immersed every single time. It’s not perfection itself but, considering the limitations its budget imposed, it’s near-perfect.