"You're safe because we died already."
A brave feature for a Hollywood studio to take on, this atypical avant-garde film attempts to deal with the existentialist philosophy surrounding life and death, after the protagonist experiences a near-death event. The epiphany and adrenaline rush that Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) undergoes in his brush with death radically alters his personality and behaviour. When the hydraulics fail on the plane on which he is aboard, setting it plunging towards the ground, amongst the panic and screaming of his fellow passengers Max has the revelation that he is no longer afraid. The accompanying 'buzz' that his seeming invincibility produces has such an impact upon him that after surviving the crash, he proceeds to risk his life in search of an equivalent level of euphoria in cheating death. Thus, he confronts his own life-threatening allergy to strawberries, blithely walks across lanes of oncoming traffic, and in one riveting scene, stands perilously on the ledge of a skyscraper in the buffeting wind. In addition, he is increasingly drawn to those who have shared this life-changing experience, and steadily more distant from his wife and child. Bridges delivers a laconic and effortless performance, at first glance, more worthy of an Oscar nomination than his earlier less convincing incarnation of Carpenter's 'Starman'. Yet, his performance suffers from the fact that his character's smugness and introspective self-absorption is ultimately unappealing. Just as this protagonist has a growing sense of detachment from those around him, so can we the audience become more alienated from his narcissistic and zen-like attitude. Bridges' efforts are further undermined by having to deliver lines of new-age psycho-babble which grate with the profound issues under analysis. As such, Max offers empty pieces of advice such as 'If life and death make no sense, there's no reason to do anything', and to his gaming aficionado son: 'When you die, you don't get another life.' By contrast, Rosie Perez provides a performance worthy of earning her an Academy Award statuette, and one which should have garnered her more future Hollywood opportunities than has been the case. Her portrayal of a mother wracked by depression and guilt for not having done more to save her baby is simply heart-rending. How can one forget the slow-motion scene in which she desperately attempts to breathe in the scent of another's new-born for that which she herself has lost. As preparation for bringing such weighty and profound content to the 'big screen', director Peter Weir interviewed survivors from a real crash which occurred just outside Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. Consequently, Weir decided to change the nature of the film's most moving and frightening scene by dropping all exterior shots, and purely concentrating on the passengers' viewpoint, thereby heightening its intensity for the film's audience. After a few years of career hiatus, Weir approached the studio heads and asked to be given an artistic challenge in bringing to fruition a proposal for what he termed a 'broken script'. His skills are evident from the majesty of the opening scene in which Bridge emerges from a hazy, smoky cornfield holding what the audience believe to be his baby in his arms and his little boy by the hand, before the shot pans out to reveal the wreckage and carnage of a terrible air-crash. Probably the inspiration for JJ Abrams' opening of 'Lost'. The director, who himself considered this feature his greatest work, greatly benefits from working alongside cinematographer, Allen Daviau, frequent collaborator in Spielberg's early successes. If only Rafael Yglesias' screenplay, based on his own novel, had been as impressive. Nevertheless, Weir has provided one of the most touching pieces of cinematic history which should endure as testament to his art, with his treatment of the crash scene playing out to Gorecki's Third Symphony.