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USA 1995
Directed by
Sean Penn
108 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Crossing Guard

Sean Penn is an actor well-known for his fondness for heavy emoting and The Crossing Guard demonstrates that this is a proclivity not confined to his screen roles. Written and directed by Penn it is an intense story of loss, grief, guilt that borders on the overwrought yet at the same time is adversely constrained by the conventions of Hollywood film-making.

Jack Nicholson plays Freddy Gale, a jeweller whose young daughter was killed five years previously by a drunken driver, John Booth (David Morse). Now that the driver is out of prison Freddy plans to kill him but, needless to say, it’s not as easy as thing to do as he thinks and we follow Freddy over a three day period as he variously boozes and whores around, visits his former wife Mary (Anjelica Huston) and her new husband, all the while building up courage to redeem himself in his own eyes, if not that of his wife’s, by ending Booth’s life.

It is surprising how much Penn packs into the relatively short running time but this is part of the problem as it dilutes what could have been a potent study of two men facing their demons.  Symptomatic of the problem is that Penn for some reason adds titles to tell us that the Nicholson character is the father, Huston the mother, and Morse the driver. It all comes out readily in the story so why bother?  It seems that Penn is victim of the dreaded American propensity to spell out everything. Thus, a whole sub-plot involving Booth and a gorgeous artist named JoJo (Robin Wright) is a pointless distraction that only serves Penn to state the obvious, that Booth feels guilty, and the film’s what-are-the-odds ending is not only a near trite resolution but a wallow in sentimentality.

Penn overuses Nicholson’s hooded eyes and mobile brows, giving us more of the actor than the character whilst Morse is competent but hardly persuasive as the guilt-ridden driver. As a scenario The Crossing Guard had evident potential but Penn's execution is far too conventional to strike dramatic pay-dirt with it.

FYI: Penn and Wright were a couple at the time as had been Nicholson and Huston during the 70s and 80s




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