At Close Range (1986)

At Close Range (1986)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“Most people who drive through here see farms. Houses, and fields, and shit. I see money; I see things.”

A disaffected teen (Sean Penn) and his brother (Chris Penn) go to work for their long-lost father (Christopher Walken), a psychopathic gangster who will stop at nothing to maintain his power.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Christopher Walken Films
  • Father and Child
  • Gangsters
  • Psychopaths

Based on the true story of Pennsylvania gangster Bruce Johnson, Sr. — whose son, Bruce Jr., notoriously testified against him in court — At Close Range isn’t listed in Peary’s book, but remains must-see viewing for the fine central performances given by Walken (he’s never been creepier) and young Sean Penn. Director James Foley — working with d.p. Juan Ruiz Anchaa and composer Patrick Leonard — creates a memorable, haunting ambience for this brutal tale of family ties gone wrong; the stylized visuals and soundtrack are consistently compelling, even as the story itself becomes more and more disturbing. Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan effectively depicts both the joy Penn feels at finally finding “meaning” in his life, as well as the utter paranoia he experiences once his loved ones are killed off one by one, and he realizes he’s gotten into a much deadlier situation than he ever anticipated. Expect plenty of violence and murder in this true-life story, which remains relatively faithful to its source “material”; not even Penn’s sweetly filmed romance with his gorgeous, feisty girlfriend (Mary Stuart Masterson) remains unscathed. At Close Range may be too brutal to merit multiple viewings, but it certainly deserves a visit at least once by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Penn as Brad, Jr.
  • Christopher Walken as Brad, Sr.
  • Mary Stuart Masterson as Terry
  • Juan Ruiz Anchia’s rich cinematography
  • The evocative opening credits
  • Patrick Leonard’s haunting score

Must See?
Yes, for the riveting lead performances by Penn, Walken, and Masterson.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


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