Think of this as a guide through each of Christopher Walken's films, starting with his first and moving forward. Each review will provide analysis, factoids and opinion on the ninety-plus films in his career.

At Close Range (1986)

Genre: Dramatic Crime Thriller (based on a true story)

Walken in Short:  He’s a charismatic con-man ‘Godfather’ with a hint of a Southern drawl, a great 70’s porno-stash, and a sociopath’s disposition. He is a monster, oh though he smiles so sweetly.

He’s a bad bad man. This is necessary Walken.

Movie in a Sentence: A rebellious 19 y.o. (Sean Penn) finally meets his charismatic but scary father (Walken) who is also the leader of a vicious rural crime-family, and the father will do anything (and I mean anything) to protect himself.

Director: James Foley – This was his second film. He went on to direct AFTER DARK MY SWEET (with Jason Patric), FEAR (with Mark Wahlberg), CONFIDENCE (with Dustin Hoffman), and the Mamet-penned classic GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS with a fiery Pacino, and a near-perfect performance by Alec Baldwin.

Writer:  Nicholas Kazan (son of Elia) wrote the screenplay based off Eliott Lewitt’s story, who had noticed it in a newspaper article.

Duration: One hour and 51 minutes (111 minutes)

Actors Other Than Walken:

  • Sean Penn is in ultra-cool James Dean-mode as Brad Jr. He’s hot-headed, stubborn, unaffectedly laconic, and at the same time pensively sensitive.
  • Chris Penn does a fine job playing his kid-brother, a role he had been rehearsing all his life. But really, no, he is good in this.
  • Mary Stuart Masterson is Brad Jr.’s 16 year-old mutual love-interest. She is a naive but passionate girl, lotta moxie.
  • David Straithern is part of Walken’s gang. They make a point of telling you he’s epileptic.
  • Tracey Walter is ‘Uncle’ Patch. He’s Walken’s conniving, seedy, bumbling, thief of a brother. Even if you don’t recognize his name (I didn’t at first), you’ll probably know him from his face or past movie roles. (see the next ‘fun fact’ for more below)
  • Crispin Glover is one of Sean Penn’s dirtball friends. He’s pretty much the same character that he was in THE RIVER’S EDGE, and I’m okay with that, because Crispin is so wonderfully wonderfully weird.
  • Kiefer Sutherland has no lines, and he’s barely seen, but because he went on to be a big star, you see his name and picture touted in marketing for this film. He is part of Sean Penn’s “gang”.

Tracey Walter, Grace Jones, and Schwartzie

FUN FACT: In addition to over 70 films and a bunch of TV, you might recognize Tracey Walter as Malak, the sniveling thief in CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). He was also Bob, the Joker’s henchman in the Tim Burton BATMAN (1989), and he has played a Ferengi several times in Star Trek TNG. He also had a miniscule role in ANNIE HALL with Walken back in the day!

MPAA Rating: ‘R’ – In addition to Walken’s general malevolence, the drugs, violence, rape, murder, and slow-motion close-ups of fresh gunshot wounds, Crispin Glover says and does some heinous ugly things. For example, his first line in the film – well, I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s a jaw-dropper. He says the “c-word”!! Ooooh! Not…The C-Word?!

Similar Films: The River’s Edge, Drugstore Cowboy, Another Day in Paradise, A Bronx Tale, Blood Simple

Available to Own: On DVD and VHS. They aren’t common, but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.

No blu-ray though, not yet anyways.

I Give This: an Eight. This is a solid piece of drama that doesn’t just have the guts to go to the dark places it needs to, it has the humor to buoy it, and the momentum to carry it through. Great acting, writing, and directing; all of it. Memorable scenes and the pacing is a slow but steady climb until its inevitable crazy-intense climax.

Walken Quote:

“Most people that drive through here, they see FARMS, houses and fields, and… sh!t. I see money. Everywhere I go I see money! That’s the thing, if it can move. Anything that can move has my name writ on it: ‘Brad Whitewood, hooold for delivery!’ (cracks himself up, laughing)

~Brad Sr. in ‘At Close Range’

Walken Content: 75% – It’s high. Walken’s all over this. He’s got some great lines, long speeches like he loves, and Walken turns it all into gold. Sure the film is “about” Sean Penn’s character, the same way SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is about Clarisse. Everybody knows that Hannibal is the real star, and in the same way here, Walken just as surely steals the show.

FUN FACT: Supposedly De Niro didn’t want this part. They said, ‘here, take this role, bobby, take it. he’s a madman, you like madmen.’ but Bobby said nope. He said it was too dark. What?! Whatever, Travis Bickle. Good thing Walken frolics in the dark. He eats it up!

Should You Watch This? Absolutely. When Walken is a crime-boss, you should pay attention. He’s played a fair number of them over the course of his career so far, and they’ve all been brutal and intimidating men, but this one is Top Five-material. This is up there with KING OF NEW YORK and THE FUNERAL, to name only two. Follow the link above to see his others.

General Thoughts: I’ve been focusing on the father/son dynamic because that’s where the Walken is in this film, and that is also where the big things happen in this. But if I’m going to be something like thorough, I’d should add that there are other stories being told in this film.

There is the love story between Sean Penn’s and Mary Stuart-Masterson’s characters. They look good together, good chemistry. They don’t over-act, and their scenes are not over-written. Possibly a bit sappy to this old cynic’s mind, but this is a tragedy, so some sweet can serve to balance out the bitter.

There is also the story of his home life, mainly his relationship with his eager and impressionable younger brother (played by real-life brother Chris Penn),  and also his mother, and his grandmother (Eileen Ryan). The interesting thing about Eileen Ryan is that she is really Sean and Chris’ real-life mother! Cool, huh?

Okaylet’swrapitup: No. Walken transcends villainy. Look at that moustache, how could he NOT hatch nefarious schemes whilst twirling it?!

Look: He charms and cajoles, compliments you, laughs and encourages you to laugh along — andthenhekillsyou.

He’s evil despite being named ‘Brad,’ which is on record as the third least-threatening name in the world, after ‘Rupert’ and ‘Francis’. Walken makes it work though. And how!

This is a dark little tale from the underbelly of America’s sweetsweet heartland, made all the darker because it’s true.


3 comments on “At Close Range (1986)

  1. Pingback: The Funeral (1996) | walkenchronicles

  2. H.R.42
    October 6, 2022

    Tracey Walter and Chris!? This one’s top of my list now. Note also that Walter plays Lamar, the funeral director in The Silence of the Lambs (“No sir, that’s a bug cocoon”), and Miller in Repo Man (“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are”). Damn.

    • Jamie L Hartley
      April 2, 2023

      Yhis is actually one of he few of Walken’s movies that I found him truly terrifying in. Normally even as an evil crime boss, i find him incredibly fun to watch and usually sexy lol. He scares the crap out of me in this one

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