At Close Range

At Close Range is a 1986 American neo-noir film[2] crime drama film directed by James Foley, based on the real life rural Pennsylvania crime family led by Bruce Johnston Sr. which operated during the 1960s and 1970s. It stars Sean Penn and Christopher Walken, with Mary Stuart Masterson, Sean's brother Chris Penn, David Strathairn, Crispin Glover, Kiefer Sutherland, and Eileen Ryan (the Penns' real-life mother) in supporting roles. Sean Penn's real-life wife at the time, Madonna, both sang and wrote the lyrics for the song “Live to Tell” which features in the film's soundtrack.

At Close Range
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Foley
Produced byDon Guest
Elliott Lewitt
Screenplay byNicholas Kazan
Story byElliott Lewitt
Nicholas Kazan
Music byPatrick Leonard
CinematographyJuan Ruiz Anchía
Edited byHoward E. Smith
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • April 18, 1986 (1986-04-18)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million
Box office$2.3 million[1]


Brad Whitewood Sr. is a career criminal and the leader of his family's gang of rural back-door criminals. The film chronicles the intersection of Sr's criminal enterprises with his son, Brad Whitewood Jr., who starts out as a floundering, out-of-work teenager living in near squalor with his mother, grandmother, brother and mother's boyfriend. When his father shows up in a flashy car with a pocket full of hundred dollar bills, Brad Jr. formulates a desire to join his father's life of crime. At first Jr. starts a gang with his brother, Tommy, fencing their stolen goods through Brad Sr.'s criminal network. As a result of entanglements with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Terry, Brad Jr. seeks full entry into his father's gang, but after witnessing a murder he tries to back out. Eventually Brad Jr's gang is arrested while attempting to steal tractors, and the FBI and local law enforcement attempt to lean on Brad Jr. to get him to turn evidence on his father's gang.

During Brad Jr.'s time in jail, Brad Sr. becomes convinced that Terry is a risk to his activities, thinking that Brad Jr. may confide details to her and that she has a big mouth. In an attempt to destroy her relationship with Brad Jr., he rapes Terry after getting her drunk and stoned. After a prison visit where Terry, accompanied by Brad Jr's mother, has an inaudible conversation with Brad Jr., it appears that Brad Jr. begins to cooperate with the police. The members of Brad Jr's gang are subpoenaed, and Brad Sr. feels his only recourse is to eliminate them. Brad Jr. and Terry plan to flee to Montana, but they are ambushed and Terry is killed and Brad Jr. is seriously wounded. Brad Jr. confronts his father armed with his father's gun, but decides instead to cooperate with police. The film ends with a close up of Brad Jr. on the witness stand.




The movie, while depicting incidents in Chester County and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was actually filmed in Franklin, Tennessee and Spring Hill, Tennessee.


Music for the film was composed by Patrick Leonard, who had been working on an instrumental theme for Fire with Fire, and wanted to enlist Madonna for the vocals. Leonard was turned down by Paramount for that project, but Madonna, who was at the time married to Sean Penn, decided that the theme would work well for At Close Range. She composed the lyrics and presented a demo cassette to director James Foley, and suggested Leonard compose the film's soundtrack. The theme with Madonna's lyrics became the single "Live to Tell". A slower instrumental version opened the film's main title sequence, a harbinger of the end credit sequence, which was accompanied by the version from Madonna's album True Blue. The instrumental score by Leonard remained unreleased until a version of the main titles appeared on the Internet in 2014, although the 45 single of "Live to Tell" included a B-side incomplete instrumental version of the score, and DJ A!O released a seven-minute instrumental suite of Leonard's film arrangement prior to 2008 on Sp!n.

The official soundtrack to the film included a number of singles from the 1970s decade, including "Miss You" by The Rolling Stones, "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste of Honey, as well as a number of arrangements featuring LeRoux.


Critical reception

Roger Ebert gave the At Close Range 312 (out of 4) stars, noting that "few recent films have painted such a bleak picture of human nature". He described Penn as "probably the best of the younger actors", while lauding Walken's "hateful" performance.[3]

At Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87% based on 23 reviews, with an average score of 7.2/10.[4] It holds a score of 67 out of 100 on Metacritic from 9 appraisals, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

Box office

Despite the accolades and warm reviews, the film was not a box office success. It grossed a total of $2,347,000 at the North American box office during its theatrical run in 83 theaters, earning less than its production budget of $6.5 million.


See also


  1. At Close Range at Box Office Mojo
  2. Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth; Ursini, James; Porfirio, Robert (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopaedia. Overlook Duckworth (New York). ISBN 978-1-59020-144-2.
  3. "At Close Range Movie Review & Film Summary (1986) | Roger Ebert". Archived from the original on 2013-07-16. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  4. "At Close Range". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2015-11-07. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  6. "Berlinale: 1986 Programme". Archived from the original on 2010-12-28. Retrieved 2011-01-14.
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