Chris Cooper

Wikipedia Information

Showing 1 - 2 of 2 annotations associated with Cooper, Chris

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film


As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.

Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.

Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.

As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.

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American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.

From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.

Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.

Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.

The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.

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