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RACING WITH THE MOON

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sean Penn, Elizabeth McGovern, Nicolas Cage
Director: Richard Benjamin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono, French Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: November 30, 2004

Film ***

At one point, Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage were young actors on the rise. With the 1984 film Racing With the Moon, they both ignite the screen in what could be considered a sign of things to come regarding their acting careers.

Films such as this don't get made much in today's age. The movie is a sweet-natured account of the final days leading up to two lifelong friends shipping off to fight in World War II. These last several days turn out to be the biggest turning point in these young guys' lives. It may be more of a turning point than going off to war.

The story takes place in a small California town in 1943. The hero of the story is Henry "Hopper" Nash (Penn), a young rebel who has just volunteered to serve his country by fighting in World War II. His lifelong friend, Nicky (Nicolas Cage) has also volunteered. Teens their age have been volunteering left and right. Hopper and Nicky see going off to war as a chance to get out of their boring town and engage in something adventurous and meaningful with their lives.

Then Hopper encounters something most unexpected, a chance encounter with a woman he finds most attractive. The girl, named Caddie (Elizabeth McGovern), is a mysterious soul who Hopper spots on routine walks on the hillsides. He then spots her as a ticket taker at the local theatre. He decides to make his first move by posing as a bakery clerk when she goes in to order some pie. He then makes a fool of himself in front of her at the school library, which then leads to an awkward first date.

From that point on, an unexpected romance blossoms. Caddie and Hopper become frequently inseparable, though the day of going to war grows closer. As the crucial point in their lives draws near, conflicts increase at an unexpected rate. In a desperate attempt to save Nicky from something he doesn't want to happen, the two risk their necks in a game of pool at a nearby bar against some rugged navy sailors.

Above all else, Racing With the Moon is a first rate character study, and the characters are given a real level of depth by the actors. Penn and Cage are outstanding in what is easily an early career highlight. This movie perfectly serves as a sign of things to come, as both actors have gone on to enjoy marvelous careers. Both actors have recently also won Oscars, Cage for Leaving Las Vegas and Penn for Mystic River.

Racing With the Moon is a timely and most effective love story, as well as an examination of a complex relationship amongst the central characters.

BONUS TRIVIA: Look closely, and you'll spot a very young Michael Madsen and Dana Carvey in separate scenes.

Video ***1/2

Paramount's anamorphic handling of this now 20 year old pic is extremely satisfying, especially when you take into account that they haven't had much luck in transferring their 80s releases to the format. The image is very clear and consistently so, give a minor soft spot or two. The scenery of the California hillside setting looks particularly breathtaking.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 mix does what it can with this dialogue-driven piece. What can be said for this presentation is that the delivery of dialogue is as sharp and clear as can be. Some retro 40's music also makes for some nice sound, but that's about all this presentation can allow in those terms.

Features ***

This was quite a surprise, since I thought Paramount was going to leave a good bit of their catalog titles feature-less unless under a Special Edition label. The disc happens to have a commentary track with director Richard Benjamin, as well as three very in-depth featurettes, "Racing With the Moon"-The Story, The People, "The Making of Racing With the Moon", and "The Story Goes On".

Summary:

As a period piece and a character study, Racing With the Moon is a most passionate film experience. It serves as an early indication of the talents of two of today's most outstanding actors. Penn and Cage are great actors now, and they're also great in this earlier release.

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