Based on the true tale of husband-and-wife bank robbers Jeffrey and Jill Erickson, this character study follows a loving but mismatched couple from first encounter to tragic downfall.
We first see Chris (Luke Perry) and Pam (Ashley Judd) armed and in disguise. While hot-wiring a car, Chris is arrested and Pam takes off, the police in hot pursuit. The story then flashes back two years earlier, to their first barroom encounter. Chris is a straight-arrow rookie patrolman; Pam's a
pot-smoking, hard-drinking beauty. Despite her volatile moments, Chris marries her. Pam deteriorates further once she's trapped in his world of everyday responsibilities. She trashes their home, alienates Chris from his family, and maxes out their credit cards; after an argument over money, she
slices up her torso in a fit of depression.
Fired from his job, Chris becomes so desperate that, unbeknownst to Pam, he parlays his police/security guard skills into a successful career in bank robbery. He's soon able to afford the quaint little suburban house of his dreams. But when Pam accidentally spots him in the middle of one of his
hold-ups, she's so turned on that she later experiences her first orgasm and asks to come along on his next job. After Chris is forced to shoot a policeman, he ditches the criminal career and buys a used bookstore. But Pam, disappointed with their return to a "normal life," leaves him until he
resumes the robberies. By now, though, the cops are onto them. The film returns to the opening sequence; Chris is arrested and Pam kills herself when the police trap her in a suburban cul-de-sac. Chris is put on trial; still obsessed with Pam, however, he steals a cop's gun, tries to escape, and
The combination of crime and doomed romance is nothing new, but this film is a bleak and compelling new addition to that roster. Instead of using its characters' lawless ways as an excuse for cheap melodrama, director John McNaughton (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) downplays the more
sensationalistic aspects of the story. Playing chilly voyeur to the Andersons' day-to-day lives and downward spiral, he lays out the facts with little judgment or sledgehammer psychology. The result is akin to a modern update of BADLANDS (1973). At its core lies a brilliant, open-wound performance
by Judd as the compellingly screwed-up Pam. Putting his "Beverly Hills 90210" persona behind him, Perry is also surprisingly effective as an average guy suddenly overwhelmed by his emotions. Middle-class Illinois locales prove an effective backdrop for the characters' overwhelming desperation.
It's an unflinching love story that gives new meaning to the term dysfunctional. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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