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MOVIE REVIEW : Walken Has Purported Close Encounter in ‘Communion’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Communion” (citywide), a serious, often persuasive attempt to dramatize writer Whitley Strieber’s purported contact with aliens, affords Christopher Walken his showiest role to date.

As the life-loving, happily married Strieber, Walken is a prankish, playful charmer whose wife Anne (Lindsay Crouse) laughs a great deal but is in fact a solid, sensible type. They’re smart enough to know they have it all, including an adored small son Andrew (Joel Carlson) and a chic Manhattan apartment.

They also have a large, equally chic cabin in the mountains. On a weekend in October, 1985, Strieber, his son and another couple (Andreas Katsulas, Terri Hanauer) are awakened by a blinding light. In short order Strieber seems to be hallucinating and sinking into paranoia. A calm, dedicated parapsychologist (Frances Sternhagen) tries to help, but he tends to resist her.

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Under the assured, easy direction of Philippe Mora, working from Strieber’s adaptation of his own best seller, Walken dazzles, giving us an intelligent, talented man caught in a nightmare and fearing for his sanity. Crouse matches him as a strong woman determined to put up a ferocious fight to help her husband and save their marriage. Mora and his stars take “Communion” far above standard sci-fi schlock, yet the film stumbles in its presentation of the aliens.

Even those open to the possibility that Strieber did have a series of close encounters of the third kind with a bunch of jolly blue gnomes and some spindly, doe-like creatures with Keane eyes may have a problem with the literalness with which these aliens are presented. They seem right out of the pages of the National Enquirer. Clearly, Mora means to be faithful to Strieber, but a more ethereal approach to the non-humans might have been more effective.

Even so, “Communion,” a most handsome production, does take us on an incredible journey that comes full circle in satisfying fashion. And Walken and Crouse are terrific.


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