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‘Imaginary Crimes’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 28, 1994


Anthony Drazan
Harvey Keitel;
Fairuza Balk;
Kelly Lynch;
Vincent D'Onofrio
Parental guidance suggested

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There are people who lie outright, fully conscious of their intent to deceive, and then there are dreamers, who deceive because they can't tell the difference between a lie and what they wish to be true. Ray Weiler, the character played by Harvey Keitel in Anthony Drazan's poignant "Imaginary Crimes," falls into the second category.

For Ray, the brass ring of stupendous success is always just beyond reach. A widower raising two daughters, he's constantly maneuvering to launch one scheme or another that is certain to lift him to his rightful place as a millionaire. One day it's a process to restore the nap on serge suits; the next it's a gizmo for detecting metal.

Actually, Ray has everything he needs to break into the big time except luck. As seen through the sympathetic eyes of his older daughter, Sonya (Fairuza Balk), who functions as the story's narrator, he's a charismatic figure doing the best he can against constantly mounting odds. Functioning as both father and mother to his girls, Ray struggles to instill in them an appreciation for the finer things in life. At the same time, the girls are forced to tolerate his drinking and participate in his elaborate efforts to evade creditors.

For the most part, the picture, which was adapted by Kristine Johnson and Davia Nelson from Sheila Ballantyne's autobiographical novel, concentrates on the relationship between Ray and his daughters and Sonya's memories of her mother (Kelly Lynch), who died of cancer when Sonya was in her early teens. The life she describes here is one of perpetual improvisation and disappointment. And Drazan ("Zebrahead") shows great sensitivity in capturing the conflicting feelings of affection and resentment that Sonya feels toward her eccentric dad.

As Ray, Keitel is nothing short of remarkable. Running on a seemingly endless supply of optimism, stubbornness and raw nerve, Ray is a man of average talents who simply refuses to accept his averageness. In his own mind he's a great man, and the actor gives him such complete conviction that you have almost no choice but to believe in him.

Unfortunately, Ray is so compelling a figure that we resent the time spent on Sonya's crush on her English teacher (Vincent D'Onofrio) and her fledgling efforts as a writer. This is not because of any particular flaw in the other performances, or the material, or Drazan's realization of it. It's just that everything that is special about the film is in Keitel's furious, complex, exhilarating performance.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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