I f the world were a perfect place, love would erase all the extraneous problems. Unfortunately, the notion of love transcending all only is a reality in the world of films. Waking the Dead is such a movie that tries to capture this elusive dream. It is based on a novel and it's apparent that this is a stripped down version of something far greater. It only achieves a certain level of brilliance in the performances of Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connely. Waking The Dead will leave the audience with a smile and a warm feeling.
In 1972 the audience is introduced to Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup), a young man working for the US Coast Guard with dreams of one day becoming a Senator and ultimately the President. He soon falls intensely in love with Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), an idealistic activist. Sarah is killed in a car bombing in Chile leaving behind Fielding with a broken heart and only his dreams. We find Fielding in 1982 running for Congress with a lingering longing for Sarah. Soon he is consumed by memories and visions of Sarah so intense he believes he is losing his mind. Is she still alive or is his broken heart conjuring up images of his fallen love.
Waking the Dead is a stripped down version of the novel. Most novels do not translate well to the silver screen because they lose a certain internal intensity that is created in the readers' minds. They also have the ability to explore many avenues while wandering through a central plot. This film could have been well served with more of these extraneous distractions. It only captures and focuses in on the love between the two characters, toying with the notion that love transcends all. Waking the Dead could have easily slipped into a muck that most love stories find themselves, if it wasn't for the fine acting. Billy Crudup throws himself in this roll with a tangible intensity that forces you to feel for his well being. Fielding Pierce is presented with hardened qualities, the scars of a broken heart, but Billy Crudup does a formidable job of adding a kind of childhood innocence to the character in his frustration and confusion over the loss of Sarah. His raw, almost childlike, frustration is best portrayed when the visions lead to a madness of sorts, culminating in an explosive, emotional breakdown in front of Fielding's family. Such young actors rarely capture this energy and sincerity.
The film stumbles in its inability to explore its foil characters. Foil characters generally supply a story with deeper and well-rounded central characters. It displays character's motivations, aspirations and mannerisms. Waking the Dead lost this aspect to the cutting room floor. It is apparent that there was great care in editing this film but to the point where it was overdone. The directorial style of Keith Gordon serves this film well. His use of close ups adds to the intensity of the two characters' love. At times only Fielding and Sarah's face fill the screen, forcing the audience to see through their eyes that are blinded by their intense love. This, in fact, draws the audience in, relying on the power of love to awake the romantic dreams and realities of the viewer. Also, Keith Gordon keeps from going over the top when Feilding begins to have visions. It is easy for a director to utilize the power of film and editing to create a paranoid, freakish world, but he capitalizes on the ability of his actors to accomplish such feats. However, Waking the Dead's timeline is unnecessarily broken up, jumping between decades. Should Keith Gordon have kept this movie in a simple time frame from past to present, the audience would be more effectively drawn in. By the time the credits role you understand the love between the two characters but for reasons seemingly outside the film. By breaking up the timeline it takes the audience longer to understand Sarah - and even Fielding.
Waking the Dead teeters on the edge of greatness and mediocrity. It will have to find and cater to a specific audience though, and probably will not crowd the theaters. It is not a movie that will knock you off your feet but it will allow you to forget about things for awhile. The plot is predictable but not obvious. It does not insult the viewers' intelligence with a certain hand holding technique that many films possess. Waking the Dead will pull you in with its fine directorial style and superb acting.