Mark Wahlberg surprised one considerably with Fear. At the time, he was a juvenile delinquent high-school dropout and a petty criminal who had done jail time, before finding fame as controversial white rapper Marky Mark and then stumbling into acting. How Wahlberg went from high-school dropout and jailbird to Hollywood leading man and later the multi-million dollar club, is one of the great rags-to-riches stories of our time. At the time of Fear, Wahlberg was a complete unknown and would not become a familiar face until his next film, Paul Andersons Boogie Nights (1997). Surprisingly, for a complete unknown, he proved to be the best thing about the film. His performance is particularly effective simply in its quiet manneredness and he does an excellent job in swinging between a romantic tenderness and a dangerous, calculating threat.
Unfortunately, while well made, Fear remains a deeply conservative film it was after all made by director Ron Howards production company Imagine Entertainment. It starts out with an interesting, dramatically loaded set-up. It tells the story from Reese Witherspoons point-of-view and has her drawn between two poles Mark Wahlberg, whom she falls in love with but who proves to be dangerously controlling, and between her father William Petersen, who is much more obviously controlling but who turns out to eventually be right in his suspicions about Wahlberg. It is a psycho story along the lines of Fatal Attraction (1987) but cast in terms of a parental rebellion drama. Unfortunately, that is all there is to the film. What Fear eventually ends up doing is failing to take William Petersens position with any appreciable criticism and only reinforcing his conservative desire for control. No criticism is ever made by the film of his threatening behaviour toward Mark Wahlberg and desire to control Reese Witherspoon he is only doing it for her own good and there is no wrong in his outbursts of anger.
The script never ends up pushing things far enough a much more morally complex telling would have made William Petersens position right in the end but with Reese Witherspoon unwilling to go back and accept it because he acted so unreasonably. There is a scene where Mark Wahlberg taunts William Petersen and suggests that he is out of control because of his failing business and his inability to keep it up in bed but nothing further ever eventuates of this. Similarly, there is a scene where Reese Witherspoons best friend Alyssa Milano deliberately flashes her panties at William Petersen and he is tempted to look, but nothing is ever made of this either.
A far more interesting film would have allowed William Petersens failings and temptations to be brought to the fore by Mark Wahlbergs presence, as was the case in Martin Scorseses Cape Fear (1991) where the presence of the psycho of the show served to bring out underlying family tensions. In the end, there is no real battle to the film. The unimaginative title tells it all, as does the poster tagline: We can be together. Forever. It stacks the question. We know in advance that Mark Wahlberg is the bad guy so there is no suspense on our part when we see Reese Witherspoon torn between him and her father. Witherspoons waywardness, her decision to lose her virginity, her rebelling against William Petersens control, are all seen not so much as being punished but as wrong decisions brought about by her lack of responsible thinking. Despite the teenage focus that Fear was sold with, it is in reality a film aimed at conservative parents it is merely a fantasy where parents worst fears about the company their children keep is allowed to come true.
(Nominee for Best Actor (Mark Wahlberg) at this sites Best of 1996 Awards).