Four Friends, from director Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde, Little Big Man, Night Moves) and writer Steve Tesich (Oscar winner for Breaking Away), is a lovely, strange, and all-together beguiling little movie that came and went in 1981, but is worth tracking down on DVD. A hit with critics but pure poison at the box office, the narrative is set in the 1960’s and tells the story of three male best friends and the one woman (the adorable Jodi Thelen) that they all loved. Society changes all around them, they grow up and apart from one another, but family, friends, and hometown life always come calling, resulting in some unique pairings through the turbulent social climate of the decade.
This movie has some super-awkward moments (both intentional and unintentional), and offers up broadly etched performances from an interesting cast of actors who executed their roles in a melodramatic style that would likely seem embarrassing or off-putting to audiences in 2017. It’s also interesting to note that, outside of leading man Craig Wasson(!), nobody in the up-front cast went on to do anything of any major importance after this film, unless I’m missing something. The story is very knowing and touching and there are some wonderful lines of dialogue, and in his final film, cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet (Tess, Love and Death, Mickey One) brought an earthy quality to the steel-mining mid-west locales. This is a movie that truly feels “on-location,” and the period-appropriate soundtrack includes some choice classic tracks that help to set a bouncy but contemplative vibe.
And while emotionally heightened and played rather “big” at times, the film has an odd sense of cumulative power because it feels so honest, if possibly too tidy by the finale. There’s also one of the most oddly staged bits of cinematic violence that I’ve ever seen; it’s as if there’s a dream sequence that occurs at roughly the film’s half-way point, but it’s not a dream. Four Friends is the type of movie that would NEVER BE MADE today in the same way that it was back in the early 80’s, and everything from the pacing to the method of information delivery would be drastically different. What are some other films from previous generations that you could never see a studio getting behind today?
Review by Nick Clement