Picks and Pans Review: Bright Angel
Portraying a good-hearted but wary 18-year-old, Mulroney herewith makes a place for himself among the most affecting cinematic portrayals of youth confronting the baffling realities of growing up.
Sweeter-tempered than James Dean in East of Eden, less embittered than Marlon Brando in The Wild One but still a certifiable Lost Youth, Mulroney (Longtime Companion) makes a maximum impact with a minimalist performance as a Montana boy.
Much of what he does is to flinch and recoil as a series of disorienting events—his parents' breakup, a meeting with an eccentric young woman, random violence—wrench the innocence out of him. But he conveys volumes with a hopelessly hopeful grin.
Just as well, too, because first-time director Michael Fields and screenwriter Richard Ford (the novelist) give him a lot to do. Fields virtually alternates between picturesque vistas of his Montana and Wyoming locations and close-ups of Mulroney's face. Ford's script is an epigram-athon—pretty good epigrams at that, but after a while the style calls more attention to itself: "Harsh words are all alike."
Taylor (Mystic Pizza) is equally winning as a rambunctious Canadian en route to spring her brother from a Wyoming jail. "Tell me what you've done that's shameful, even though I've done worse," she tells Mulroney. "I've done nothing," he says, and she nails the next line: "That's shameful."
Familiar faces drop in and out. The too rarely seen Mary Kay Place is Mulroney's see-no-evil aunt. And as Mulroney's railroad-brakeman father, Sam Shepard is terrific, even if he has played so many wizened Westerners by now that he is in danger of becoming the intellectual Gabby Hayes.
Fields and Ford throw in too many symbolic moments—we get the point about the gun-bearing subculture after three or four men pull out a weapon—but their film maintains a rare intensity. Mulroney, one halting step at a time, keeps it moving and gives it its sense of stubborn optimism. (R)