When Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) and Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) are together, they share the kind of intoxicating intimacy that makes the rest of the world melt away. That’s particularly good for this couple, because when they meet in 1972, they’re polar opposites in a politically divisive time.
He’s the product of his family’s working-class ambitions, a cautious striver who serves in the Coast Guard instead of Vietnam and is carefully mapping his ascent into the White House. She’s an activist liberal Catholic who works with impoverished children and the sanctuary movement. Sarah pines for sainthood; instead she becomes a secular martyr, the victim of a politically motivated car bomb.
Fielding still feels the aftershocks of her death a decade later when he commences his first political campaign. Just when he should be keeping his eye on the prize he’s pursued his whole life, Fielding becomes convinced that Sarah’s still alive.
Director Keith Gordon (A Midnight Clear, Mother Night) is remarkable at portraying the bond between Fielding and Sarah (Crudup and Connelly, co-stars in the underrated Inventing the Abbotts, are magnetic together). He effectively draws the audience into their intense embrace, so when Fielding begins to crumble behind his shiny political facade, his grief – and desire to recapture this love – is palpable.
Gordon easily jumps back and forth between the two decades and establishes a hypnotic, dreamy tone. But the film’s foundation, the screenplay by Robert Dillon from a novel by Scott Spencer (Endless Love), has a major flaw: It asks a question that’s never actually answered.
Ambiguous endings are difficult to pull off and Waking the Dead doesn’t quite succeed. But Gordon has made a fascinating study of wish fulfillment and the ability to find solace in the warm memory of an absent loved one.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.