Chris always thought his best friend David had it all…until the day David ended it all.
David Sinclair (Alan Boyce) seems to have a good life. He is popular with his fellow students, has a good home life, isn't wasted on drugs, and has a bright future in the music field. So bright that when he commits suicide, he throws his friends and family into a state of confusion. The most tormented is his best friend Chris Townsend (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). Chris was there when David made his fatal leap off the cliff. Should he have intervened, therefore preventing David's death, or did he do the right thing by just staying behind the rocks?
These are questions to which Permanent Record never attempts to find answers. That is appropriate since suicide, especially when teenagers are involved, has no definite answers, only speculation. It is a tone that's played especially right in a film that doesn't strike a false note. It is slowly paced, with the first half-hour showing us David's seemingly rich life. It allows us to get absorbed into the characters. Although we get the sense that something isn't completely right, it then allows the suicide to have greater impact as we, like Chris, keep wondering why David chooses to end his life rather than reach out for help.
Even though the film doesn't offer an answer, I have a theory. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much praise. Parents, peers, and authority figures—often unwittingly—tend to expect too much of a young person if he or she consistently excels. The pressure to keep said groups pleased becomes too much for some to bear, and suicide may feel like the only way out. It's just a theory, but it could provide a possible motive for David's action.
The acting in Permanent Record is great, in the sense that it feels realistic and natural. Keanu Reeves is often pegged as a bad actor, but that is unfair to say. Look at some of his credits and you'll see a good actor who is never given a fair shake by critics: River's Edge, Parenthood, the Bill and Ted movies, The Gift, Much Ado About Nothing, and Point Break. All contain good, versatile performances by Reeves. His work in Permanent Record is earth-shattering. At first, the character of Chris seems like the "Teds" Reeves has played before and after this film. But after the suicide, his performance takes off, as he portrays this kid's angst and suffering so perfectly that the most serious naysayers will change their opinion of his abilities. I also want to mention the work of Richard Bradford, who plays the principal. What a relief it was to see an authority figure who isn't a complete blowhard or buffoon. His Verdell is calm, reasonable, and basically a fair man. His performance seems too simple at first, but it's quite an accomplishment. He sort of has some of the same qualities as Robert Mitchum, another laid-back actor.
The film is rated PG-13, which surprised me. The film contains three uses of the notorious four-letter word whose presence usually results in the R rating. Despite this language, I am glad the MPAA had the courage and taste in 1988 to make Permanent Record accessible to the very demographic for which it should be required viewing. If released today, the film would no doubt be stuck with the R, while junk like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle escapes with the PG-13. Oh well.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer should look a lot better than this. The image is very grainy, which should not be true for a relatively recent film. Paramount has done great work with titles that are much older (Nashville being a particular highpoint in their catalog). The colors look weaker than normal, and there are some problems with blacks and shadows.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix could also be better. Dialogue is easy to understand, but there are moments in which Joe Strummer's score is mixed far too low. Sound effects range from effective to nonexistent. It's plenty good as is, but when you pop in a disc with a stereo mix, you expect more.
As is usual with Paramount, the disc is a completely barebones affair. Not a single extra is on this disc, not even a theatrical trailer. This is a film that surely must have some interesting outtakes or interviews that could shed some more light on the subject matter.
Permanent Record is a superior film that is worth renting just to see the film itself.
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