Albert Finney and Diane Keaton delivered powerhouse performances in Alan Parker’s blistering family drama Shoot the Moon. I’ve long been a fan of Parker (Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, Midnight Express, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Evita) and this film is easily one of his best and most underrated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it has snuck by the radar of many people. Released in February of 1982 and grossing just under $10 million domestically, Finney and Keaton play a married couple with four daughters who are struggling to keep it together; he’s a writer and she runs the house and while they love each other there’s something prohibiting them from truly being happy. That the movie dances around the true reasons for their discord is a testament to the truthfulness of the scenario; sometimes people just can’t make it work, no matter how hard they try. Being that this film was made and released in the early 80’s, I was struck by how mature the handling of the material was, and how real and honest the writing was from scene to scene. Written by Bo Goldman, there’s a fantastic sense of how people really speak in Shoot the Moon, especially the four daughters of Finney and Keaton, with numerous scenes of familial interaction that sting with sad believability.
And because Parker was so good at juggling so many elements, the multi-layered strands to the characters are alternately heartbreaking and fascinating, while their spoken dialogue rings true at every single turn. The characters in Shoot the Moon behave like real people, not pieces of a clichéd narrative, and their strengths and flaws are continually displayed so that the viewer can decide what to feel even when we’re not guided in any one specific direction. Life is complex and that’s how Parker and Goldman wanted it to be in Shoot the Moon. Information is doled out carefully and casually, incidents occur off-screen, and relationships between the characters progress and regress in fully realized ways. It’s not a perfect movie (scenes get a bit hysterically pitched from time to time and there’s one massively wrong sequence that doesn’t work from a conceptual point of view) but so much of it is so terrific that it’s easy to look past some of its shortcomings. There’s nothing easy about Shoot the Moon, especially the totally bonkers and uncompromising last five minutes, which sort of have to be seen to be truly believed. The movie ends on a final freeze frame that was probably debated over by critics to no end; bold doesn’t cover it.