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Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners
Posted March 01, 2012 to photo album "Like Father and Son, from Chaplin to the Beginners"
Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
At Close Range (1986)
While James Foley’s 1986 thriller At Close Range feels like a classic Greek tragedy about a father and son, the story was taken from actual events. In 1978, the nearly two-decade-long crime spree of Bruce Alfred Johnston Sr., a rural mafia head, was brought to an end when his son, Bruce Jr., testified against him. The family had been torn apart the year before when three members of an apprentice crew, dubbed the “kiddy gang,” were found executed and buried in a barren Pennsylvania field. Among the victims was Johnston’s stepson, whom Johnston feared was talking to the police. When producer Elliott Lewitt came across the remarkable story in the newspaper in 1978, he tapped Nicholas Kazan to adapt it into a feature film. For years, the much-praised script made the rounds of various studios, but no one stepped up to fund it. It was only when Sean Penn signed on to make the project – on the condition that his friend James Foley directed – that it got greenlit. Penn at the time exclaimed, “I think At Close Range is one of the great scripts I've ever read.” In the film, Penn was cast as Brad Whitewood Jr., the son of Brad Whitewood Sr. (Christopher Walken). Sean Penn’s own brother, Chris Penn, played Tommy Whitewood, his character’s brother. When the boys start their own criminal gang, imitating their father’s enterprise, things start to go terribly wrong. What made the movie memorable for so many critics was the powerful performances of the father and son. Roger Ebert declared that this was the chance to “watch two great actors, Penn and Walken, at the top of their forms in roles that give them a lot to work with.”