The Crossing Guard (1995)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Addiction Drama, Psychological Drama, Urban Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 17, 1995 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Sean Penn's occasionally preachy, but ultimately complicated and challenging, take on the repercussions of drunk driving, both for the victims and the offenders, is a dark study in anguish and redemption. Talented actors were clearly eager to work with the mercurial second-time director, and Penn gets harrowing performances out of Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston, as well as a touchingly chastened one from David Morse as the paroled drunk driver. A simpler film would have demonized Morse as an unrepentant sinner, but Penn is more interested in shades of gray in this brooding look at characters who have randomly developed a regrettable relationship with each other. In fact, Nicholson, as the grieving father, is the film's most unbalanced and least sympathetic element, while the halo above Morse's head is almost visible. The lingering impact on all of their lives is achingly rendered, and Penn deserves credit for dramatizing the festering anger and resentment rather than the predictable hopeless sadness that would have dominated had the narrative started right after the accident. Some critics chided Penn for choosing an issue more commonly befitting an after-school special, but the deep performances excuse the topical subject matter, and the execution hints at Penn's promise beyond the field of acting, which he apparently dislikes.