By William Wolf

WAKING THE DEAD  Send This Review to a Friend

Emerging star Billy Crudup adds strength to this absorbing film that has something important to say about conscience, political commitment and learning from the past. What's more, "Waking the Dead" is a most unusual love story as well as partly a mystery drama. It is rewarding to find the occasional film that has its characters talking about values and issues, and this immediately lifts this one into an especially worthwhile category. Director Keith Gordon, screenwriter Robert Dillon, working from the novel by Scott Spencer, and executive producer Jodie Foster should be proud of their achievement.

Crudup plays Fielding Pierce, who in the early 1970s meets Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), a young woman working in his brother's publishing house. They are immediately attracted to each other, but there's a problem. He has political ambitions to follow when his Coast Guard duties are over. She is a passionate and idealistic activist who has no use for compromise. They are on an intellectual collision course. Fate intervenes when Sarah is apparently killed in a car bombing while she is aiding refugees from the repressive government in Chile. Fielding is devastated.

Leap to Chicago in 1982 and Fielding is now an attorney in the country DA's office and has a well-connected girlfriend (Molly Parker). His mentor (Hal Holbrook) is grooming him to run for Congress. But something weird is happening. Fielding begins to think he sees Sarah. Did she survive? Was there a leftist plot to pretend she was killed? Or is his imagination running wild. Either way Sarah is still there to stir his conscience and challenge his thoughts and actions in the face of pressures to sell out to political demands. There's also the question of whether there's very much Fielding has to sell out. He never did have Sarah's idealism, but now her memory takes on a new force.

Those are the essentials of this richly-textured film. Some may find it too heavy-going for their tastes, but those who like a film that grapples with ideas should make this a must. The performances themselves are recommended. Crudup has a star's ability to connect with audiences, and here he succeeds in portraying someone deeply conflicted and haunted. Jennifer Connelly is lovely as Sarah and she is compelling even when she is at her most smug in her beliefs. Janet McTeer makes the most of a small but important role as Fielding's sister.

There are some unconvincing moments, including outbursts that intelligent types might have avoided, whether by the Chilean refugees, Sarah or Fielding. Paul Hipp portrays Fielding's brother Danny as a bit to much over the edge, as does the script. But these are blips on an overall fascinating film that reaches back to the 1970s and reminds us that we have something to hold on to from that activist era to guide us in the new millennium. A USA Films release.


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