Break-ups & Breakdowns – Rediscovering ‘Shoot the Moon’ (US 1982 – 124 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - October 09, 2015
Break-ups & Breakdowns – Rediscovering ‘Shoot the Moon’ (US 1982 – 124 mins)

A somewhat forgotten film, the excellent adult story ‘Shoot the Moon’ is for me, one of the best and certainly most powerful family dramas ever filmed. At times both humorous and heart-breaking, I think it remains one of Hollywood’s best movies depicting a marriage collapsing and the repercussions that follow.

After 15 years of marriage, unfaithful writer George Dunlap (Albert Finney) leaves his wife Faith (Diane Keaton), who soon embark on a new relationship with their builder (Peter Weller). While attempting to keep the break-up civil, it’s not long before anger, hostility and jealousy cause drastic actions at home, emotionally affecting their four young daughters.

The entire cast here were faultless, with two award-worthy performances from the two leads. It’s certainly my favourite of Albert Finney’s American movies, and Diane Keaton was also terrific in an emotionally charged role. A special nod must go to the young actors playing their children, including Tracey Gold and the late Dana Hill, who did a wonderful job as their eldest daughter Sherry, who’s most affected by the break-up. Peter Weller gave a good performance as Keaton’s new love interest, while Karen Allen had a sympathetic role as Finney’s young mistress.

Director Alan Parker was an expert at working with gritty material, having earlier made the stirring ‘Midnight Express’ (’78), and was adept at directing children, as he had shown with ‘Bugsy Malone’ (’76). Acclaimed writer Bo Goldman’s touching script was both witty and real, something he had also put into his Oscar-winning screenplays for both ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (’75) and ‘Melvin and Howard’ (’80).

The movie has been accused of being overly melodramatic at times, which may be true, but I think it’s also very authentic. The unforgettable scene for me is the late-night confrontation where a desperate Finney wants to enter his home on his daughter Sherry’s birthday, but Keaton won’t let him in. The way he reacts as he smashes his way in before going upstairs where he starts smacking Sherry (who doesn’t want to see him) is truly frightening, yet very sad at the same time. This sorrow is evident in the scene that follows, where Finney attempts to tidy up some of the wreckage he has caused, as he leaves the house in shame. There is also a memorable scene in a restaurant that’s both funny and touching, and shows both Finney and Keaton at their very best.

Although the tennis court climax is dramatic and powerful, I’ve always found Finney’s actions rather jarring, although you can understand why he acts as he does. Still, the movie does end on a hopeful note, due to a last minute change by director Parker.

Expertly handling themes such as separation, loneliness and resentment, I think ‘Shoot the Moon’ is an under-rated adult drama about a family break-up, and one that has the power to stay with you for a very long time. You may want to watch a comedy afterwards, but for a ‘real’ human drama, you can’t beat this. In a year of blockbusters such as ‘E.T’ and cult favourites including ‘Blade Runner’, this is a contender for my favourite movie of 1982.

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