Is it real or is it memory?

Review: `Waking the Dead' plays against a background of political intrigue.

March 24, 2000|By MILTON KENT | MILTON KENT,SUN STAFF

It's been quite a while since Hollywood turned out a thriller with political overtones, and "Waking the Dead" isn't a perfect thriller and it doesn't get all the politics right.

But director Keith Gordon deserves credit for at least attempting to deal with political themes, and the tension isn't bad either.

Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly, who worked together in 1997's underrated "Inventing the Abbotts," are cast as a couple who meet in Chicago toward the end of the Vietnam War and, well, duh, fall in love.

Of course there are immediate problems. Crudup's Fielding Pierce is a cautious liberal with lofty aspirations and a certain appeal to the city's political machinery, while Connelly's Sarah Williams is further to the left, bordering on radical. She can neither understand nor tolerate the compromises Fielding is willing to make for political advancement.

Then, while protesting with Chilean radicals, Sarah is killed as a car bomb explodes, a piece of plot that echoes a real-life 1975 Washington car bombing that claimed the lives of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and his associate, Ronnie Moffatt.

Flash forward to 1982 and Fielding, now a city prosecutor running for a vacant Congressional seat, is seemingly on the verge of everything he has ever wanted, what with a beautiful fiancee and a wise political mentor, played with a crusty aplomb by Hal Holbrook.

There's just one problem, however: He can't shake the memory of Sarah, and he even believes she is somehow alive, despite having watched her car blow up on TV.

Crudup is particularly effective as a man being slowly driven mad, and near the film's end when he admits to his family he is losing his faculties is especially harrowing.

In what is likely her best performance to date, Connelly, one of Hollywood's more striking actresses, is fine in a role that doesn't require her to be a knockout but asks her to emote and make us feel.

Gordon, who directed a 1993 episode of "Homicide: Life on the Streets," moves the film nicely between the 1970s and '80s, never confusing the audience and forcing it to care.

`Waking the Dead'

Starring Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Hal Holbrook

Directed by Keith Gordon

Released by Gramercy Pictures and USA Films

Rated R (language, sexual themes)

Running time 105 minutes

Sun score ***

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