Waking the Dead

          Just how much power does true love possess? That's the ultimate
  question at the heart of Keith Gordon's adaptation of Scott Spencer's novel
WAKING THE DEAD. In 1972, Coast Guard officer Fielding Pierce (played by
  Billy Crudup) meets the beautiful, idealistic Sarah Williams (Jennifer
  Connelly), who is working for his brother Danny (Paul Hipp). Immediately
  drawn to her spirit and beauty, the pair begin an unlikely courtship. Fielding
  has mapped out his life with the specific goal of a career in politics, indeed
  he has aspirations to the office of the presidency. Sarah's leanings are a bit
  more radical, yet the two forge a bond. As Fielding's career progresses, it
  becomes clear that Sarah will not be a docile politician's wife. Her own
  dealings with a church group that assists Chilean refugees lead to her
  reported death in a 1974 car-bombing. Nearly a decade later, as Fielding
  comes close to realizing his long-held political ambitions (he has been
  handpicked to run for a congressional seat in a backroom political deal),
  he becomes convinced that Sarah is not really deceased. He has seen her
  fleetingly on the street and even had telephone conversations with her.
  Or has he?

          Just as he did in his best-known novel
ENDLESS LOVE, author Scott
  Spencer wrote of an obsessive passion in
WAKING THE DEAD. Clearly this
  is not an easy thing to dramatize (just as Franco Zeffirelli who attempted
  to turn
ENDLESS LOVE into a film), yet Keith Gordon has managed quite
  well. Although not credited with the screenplay (thanks to Byzantine
  union rules), Gordon opted to put the focus where it belonged, on the
  relationship between Fielding and Sarah. He also astutely cast two
  attractive and talented performers who more than rose to the challenge.
  Crudup and Connelly (who had previously acted together in 1997's
INVENTING THE ABBOTTS) beautifully complement one another on screen
  and achieve that rarity -- they make the audience believe that they are
  really a couple. The stage-trained Crudup has delivered intriguing
  performances in the past (as in the unjustly underrated
  and as Steve Prefontaine in WITHOUT LIMITS) but here truly comes into
  his own as a leading man. His acting is seamless as he negotiates the
  difficult terrain of Fielding's life from the joys of first love to the horror
  of losing that to a near psychological breakdown. Matching him is
  Connelly, that rare actress who effortlessly can project both intelligence
  and sexiness.

          In opting to concentrate on the love story, though, Gordon does give
  short shrift to the supporting players. Oscar-nominee Janet McTeer barely
  registers as Fielding's older sister while Paul Hipp as his hippie brother
  has a moment or two but a subplot involving his relationship with a
  Korean massage parlor worker feels truncated and virtually wastes the
  considerable talents of Sandra Oh. Hal Holbrook as a political kingmaker
  and Molly Parker as his niece and appropriate political mate for Fielding
  both manage to make an impression in their limited screen time. Still,
  in concentrating on the love story, Gordon raises intriguing issues on
  the nature and endurance of love.
WAKING THE DEAD is far from perfect,
  but then what romance ever is?

                          Rating:                B
                          MPAA Rating:       R for sexuality and language
                          Running time:      105 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.