Actor-turned-director Keith Gordon has crafted a touching love story that transcends time, political ideology, and even death. The movie opens in 1974 as Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) watches a TV news report announcing t... more »he death in Chile of three American activists, including Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), his one true love. The story flashes back to when they first met, showing how he was always more conservative, with grand political aspirations, but the relationship worked because they both shared dreams of making the world a better place, one from inside the system and the other from outside. The movie also flashes forward to his life in the early '80s, when he gets tapped to run for Congress. He starts having visions of her, but he is never quite sure if she's a hallucination arising out of his stress, a manifestation of his political consciousness, an out-and-out ghost, or maybe she's still alive somehow. Whatever she is, his deep longing for her is making him crack up. Gordon smartly jumps the story back and forth in time, forgoing an "objective" reality in favor of a more subjective and emotional one. It is a structure based on memory, and that in tandem with the content is what makes Waking the Dead a very powerful film indeed.--Andy Spletzer« less
"Waking the Dead sort-of disappeared shortly after it's first viewing at the Sundace Film Festival this year, and it's really quite a shame. Written and Directed by Keith Gordon (Mother Night), Waking the Dead tells the story of Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup), a young man hoping to change the world within the political system. He encounters Sarah Williams(Jennifer Connely), a charity oriented, kind spirtied woman who hopes to change the world in spite of the system. The two fall very deeply in love, easily overcoming their differences. The tone changes, however, and Sarah dies in a car bombing while helping to assist a small country. We catch up with Fielding several years down the road, caught up in an important political race. However, somewhere deep inside, we see that he's changed, and haunted by Sarah. He begins to believe he sees her throught his world. Suddenly he has to decide if she still lives, and if so, what is he willing to sacrifice to be with her again. The performances are what delivers this film. Crudup, who's curging career resemlbes that of his character, nails the role. Connely, who shakes off her earlier acting criticisms, compliments and hinges the film. Overall, I highly enjoyed and really related to this film. It creates wonderfully simplistic moments, and carries you through what would be a very depressing film at the hands of a less talented cast and crew"
Superb, but as usual, less than the book it was based upon
Traveler | New England | 07/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I read "Waking the Dead" a few months before watching the movie. I was thus certainly biased in a certain direction in favor of the book.
Keith Gordon, who also directed the outstanding and under-appreciated films "A Midnight Clear" and "Mother Night", stays pretty much faithful to the original material by Scott Spencer. It's obvious that films are different than books and directors need a certain amount lattitude to change the story as needed. Gordon certainly left a lot of the story on the cutting room floor and that is, for the most part, not a problem.
What is the problem is that Gordon didn't flesh out Sarah's story and, as a result, offers a skewed ending that the book doesn't share.
Sarah and Fielding are not "opposites" as many suggest. They happen to agree politically. They're both "liberals." Where they disagree is on tactics. The problem with the film is that we don't really see enough of Sarah to understand just how different her tactics are compared to Fielding and why, ultimately, she chose to go away. The movie's ending is ambiguious about the fate of Sarah. Did she die or didn't she? The book shares some of this approach, but it strongly leans in the direction of Sarah having faked her death. In the book Fielding meets with a priest who states that Sarah is alive. And when Sarah and Fielding finally meet at the end Sarah explains how she is living underground and continuing her work. We're given, at least in the text, a reason why Sarah chose the path that she did. Gordon, however, mostly gives us Fielding's side of things. In the process he detracts from the central conflict and ends up with a rather wishy-washy ending.
I strongly recommend this film. The DVD has many interesting extras, including many deleted scenes and a commentary by Gordon. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything on the DVD from the original author, Scott Spencer. That's too bad because I think he could have added some really interesting insights about the story overall. And of course, read the book which is, as usual, even better than the movie."
Superb performances, direction in this haunting love story
R.L. Holly | Austin, TX USA | 02/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Keith Gordon has again bowled me over with a magnificent piece of filmmaking. "Waking the Dead" shares many of the same elements as his "A Midnight Clear" (still in my view the best WWII drama of modern times) -- a skillful adaptation of a powerful novel, intense performances from the entire cast, and careful attention to the rhythm and pacing of his story. And two other things that are especially rare in today's mainstream movies: the deliberate ambiguity of the ending and nuanced characters that are neither black nor white but multiple shades of grey. Hollywood must hate this, and it must baffle many moviegoers. The general public is force-fed so many lifeless, undemanding, predictable movies with cardboard characters that they probably didn't reward this gem at the box office (Gordon's commentary track implies that this movie was a semi-flop, commercially, which is tragic -- and probably makes it only harder for him to continue to shoot quality films). One hopes "Waking the Dead" will find its audience on home video, much as the well-respected "A Midnight Clear" (which I saw several times in the theatre) seems to have.
Another reviewer has pointed out the double-meaning behind the title -- the "dead" here refers to both Sarah, believed to be physically dead, and Fielding, who has found his soul wasting away since losing her. Can Fielding bring himself as well as Sarah back to life? The story is also tellingly noncommittal as to Sarah's actual status. By the end of the film, we still don't know if Sarah is secretly alive, a ghost from the other side, or simply a product of Fielding's mental breakdown. Everything in the script leaves the question wide open for interpretation, and the effect is both chilling and intensely moving. The emotional wave of the story builds to a final confrontation between the principle characters that is truly heart-rending.
I think this is one of those movies best served by a review that does not give away too many surprises or attempt to detail too much of the plotline. Suffice to say that if you appreciate a human-scale drama that operates on several levels of meaning, you will find yourself drawn in by this one and riveted by the performances of Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. It's a film that only gets richer and more rewarding with every viewing. Looking for a love story/ghost story for grown-ups? "Waking the Dead" is a sure-fire winner.
Some parting notes:
Most directors today hit you over the head with the soundtrack music and then lazily try to let the songs carry the picture. While Gordon is not totally above this contemporary shorthand, he has enough good taste and filmmaking savvy not to let this technique dominate these scenes. And his musical selections are spot-on.
Although Connelly and Crudup are THE key players, the entire cast is outstanding, and deserves a bow.
The DVD extras are generous and revealing. Unlike the deleted scenes from Gordon's "A Midnight Clear," which did seem disposable, I felt all these cut scenes SHOULD have been restored for a "Waking the Dead" Extended Cut. It's sad that they can't be part of the regular narrative; they add a wealth of character development and detail that would have made the theatrical version even richer. Ed Harris, in particular, is deservedly singled out by Gordon's commentary and reviewers here for his exceptional portrayal of a disgraced congressman.
I read the book AFTER I saw the film, being inspired to learn more about this story's genesis. While very fine, I have to say that I still prefer the movie and its more immediate impact. But that's par for the course -- I tend to always prefer the medium in which I was first exposed to something, be it print form or cinematic. I would recommend the novel to anyone who likes the picture. But I note with some bemusement that Fielding seems a much less likable fellow in the book.
A tragic love story you'll never forget
Stephen Hall | Woodstock, GA United States | 08/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Writer-director Keith Gordon's "Waking the Dead" caught me off guard and - dare I say it? - moved me to tears. But what's almost as sad as the movie itself is that this 1999 release - which works beautifully as both a tragic love story and a psychological thriller - slipped in and out of theaters virtually unnoticed.Based on the novel by Scott Spencer, the film opens in 1972, where we meet Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup), a young U.S. Coast Guard officer with big political ambitions. He meets Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), a secretary and political activist who works at his hippie brother's New York publishing house, and the two are smitten right away. But tragedy strikes ...Without giving too much away, I will say that "Waking the Dead" cuts back and forth between the early '70s and the early '80s, producing a subjective, stream-of-consciousness narrative that manages to be compelling instead of confusing. Also, I liked the use of color and lighting to visually differentiate between the '70s scenes (warm earth tones) and the '80s scenes (cold, dark colors).But unlike "The Matrix" and "Memento," which used subjective narrative to play head games with the audience as its central gimmick, "Waking the Dead" is after bigger game. The ambiguity surrounding Sarah underscores how deeply her memory haunts Fielding, the toll it has taken on his mental state, and how deeply they love each other, despite the cruel blow fate has dealt them.The soundtrack also features lovely songs by Joni Mitchell ("A Case of You"), Lori Carson ("Snow Come Down") and Peter Gabriel ("Mercy Street"); alas, no soundtrack CD was ever made. The DVD also includes 45 minutes of deleted scenes, including a brief but engaging performance by Ed Harris, whose character only appeared onscreen (in TV footage, no less) for about 10 seconds in the final cut.Just make sure you have a box of tissues and a wastebasket handy before you push "play." You have been warned."
Crudup at his absolute best
Chelle | 04/13/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The film itself, the style and political aspect/theme, did not impress me. There's nothing particularly compelling about the flashbacks-style wise-that drive the story. But what sets this film apart from others, what motivated me to keep watching, was Billy Crudup. Granted, I'm incredibly taken with this outstanding actor, but his performance in *Waking the Dead* surprised even me. Crudup would have been the finest of actors in the days of silent movies because his facial expressions are exquisite. He need never speak a word and yet you would swear that you felt every emotion that his character felt right along with him. In my mind there is no one comparable to him in this regard. Perhaps it is just that he has this truly remarkable presence. You want to watch him no matter what subject he is dealing with on screen because he somehow makes you care.Aside from his acting, or perhaps more aptly *because* of it, this movie is painfully, beautifully, intimate. At times it felt like I was witnessing things I had no right to. And because of that atmosphere I knew I had to own it within twenty-four hours of viewing it."