❉ Life is complex and nothing is easy in Alan Parker’s bold, blistering adult drama.
Albert Finney and Diane Keaton delivered powerhouse performances in Alan Parker’s blistering family drama Shoot the Moon. I’ve long been a fan of Parker (Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, Midnight Express, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Evita, Angel Heart) and this film is easily one of his best and most underrated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been overlooked by many people.
Released in February of 1982 and grossing just under $10 million in America (and not much more internationally), the film failed to find its commercial footing, despite excellent reviews, and festival/Golden Globe/Oscar consideration.
Finney and Keaton play a married couple with four daughters who are struggling to keep it together; he’s a writer and she runs the house and while they love each other there’s something prohibiting them from truly being happy.
This isn’t an easy film to watch in many instances, with the narrative pivoting on sad, believable notions of familial discord, and despite the gloomy emotional vibe, humor is allowed to creep to the surface in key spots, and there’s always a firm directorial hand guiding the entire picture. That the movie dances around the true reasons for the married couple’s issues is a testament to the truthfulness of the scenario; sometimes people just can’t make it work, no matter how hard they try.
An early 80’s effort from MGM, this film was made at time when the studio was taking chances with more edgy, and provocative adult fare (Fame, The Formula, …All the Marbles, Pennies from Heaven, Cannery Row,Diner, The Hunger, The Year of Living Dangerously), and it’s a shame that more people weren’t receptive, because this type of movie would be very hard to get made at any studio in our current and very much sanitized and fan-boy pandering movie marketplace.
The humanistic material is handled in a very mature fashion, and it’s striking to note how real and honest the writing is from scene to scene, with great dialogue and sensible actions taken by the multidimensional (and sometimes very hard to root for) characters. Written by the legendary scenarist Bo Goldman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Rose, Melvin & Howard. Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black, The Perfect Storm), there’s a fantastic sense of how people really speak in Shoot the Moon, especially the four daughters of Finney and Keaton, with numerous scenes of family interaction that sting with sad inevitability.
The conversations that parents have with their children in this film are intimate and emotionally intense, and you rarely see this sort of stuff covered in a major film.And because Parker was so good at juggling so many elements, the multi-layered strands to the characters are alternately heartbreaking and fascinating, while their spoken words ring true at every single turn.
The characters in Shoot the Moon behave like real people, not pieces to a clichéd narrative, and their strengths and flaws are continually displayed so that the viewer can decide what to feel even when we’re not guided in any one specific direction. Life is complex and that’s how Parker and Goldman wanted it to be in Shoot the Moon. Information is doled out carefully and casually, incidents occur off-screen, and relationships between the characters progress and regress in fully realized ways. The film is bolstered on an aesthetic level by mostly stationary yet casually gorgeous cinematography from ace lenser Michael Seresin (Midnight Express, Angel Heart, City Hall), fluid editing by Gerry Hambling (Evita, In the Name of the Father, Pink Floyd – The Wall) that never rushed anything yet never wavered in pace, while the lack of a traditional musical score (notes from a piano punctuate key moments) further heightens the tense and fragile nature of the picture.
It’s not a perfect movie (scenes get a bit hysterically pitched from time to time and there’s one massively wrong sequence that doesn’t work from a conceptual point of view) but so much of it is so terrific that it’s easy to look past some of its shortcomings.
There’s nothing easy about Shoot the Moon, especially the totally bonkers and uncompromising last five minutes, which sort of have to be seen to be truly believed. The movie ends on a brilliant final freeze frame that was probably debated over by critics and audiences to no end; bold doesn’t cover it.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.