|Year Released||1995||Commentary Tracks||None|
|Running Time||163:35 minutes||Other Extras||None|
Warner Home Video
Robert De Niro
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||No||MPEG||None|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Dolby Digital||5.1|
||Soundtrack Languages||English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
And aside from the marvellous talent on display here, there are a number of ways that this film distinguishes itself. Most action films seem to start off slowly and throw in a few major action highlights along the way to maintain interest until the huge piece de resistance to end the film. Forget that here: this starts with a bang and slowly winds itself down to an almost anti-climactic sounding ending, which is anything but anti-climactic. Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is a professional thief with a professional team of assistants (yes this is deliberately sounding like a business venture, as that is what it is) who indulge in precision jobs. The film starts with a bang (literally) as Neil and his group, including Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cherrito (Tom Sizemore), Trejo (Danny Trejo) and Waingro (Kevin Gage), undertaking a little robbery of an armoured truck - but with a difference. The cash gets left but the bearer bonds get taken. Unfortunately Waingro has something of a sadistic streak in him and decides to loose off a few rounds of ammunition into the guards, which necessitates all the guards being killed. The precision robbery is completed before the police arrive and this sets the scene for a long cat and mouse game between Neil and Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the Los Angeles Police Department. McCauley is a master thief at the peak of his profession - Hanna is a professional police officer at the peak of his. The two basically square off for the rest of the film in a struggle for supremacy between themselves, and as all around them fall, these two characters are the last two standing for the final climatic meeting. Along the way however, we have a plethora of subplots - notably revolving around a businessman of a somewhat pragmatic nature, in the form of Van Zant (William Fichtner). It was his bearer bonds that were heisted and in a rather nice twist, the robbers decide to sell them back to him at a significant discount off face value - after he also claims 100% of value on insurance. However, his attempted double cross is foiled and he becomes a marked man as far as McCauley is concerned. Add in a couple of strained marriages, notably Hanna's effort with his wife Justine (Diane Venora) and Hanna's suicidal step daughter Lauren (Natalie Portman) and if the main plot starts to lose your interest, then there is plenty else going on to keep your interest up.
I have on occasions berated Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford for the rather languid way they approach films, usually with stories that are incapable of sustaining their languid approach. Michael Mann adopts an equally languid approach, but it differs for a number of reasons: first and foremost though is the fact that he penned a damned fine screenplay that supports the rather languid approach fairly well. Secondly, he assembled an extraordinarily talented cast to bring the story to life (even the right glance from Al Pacino in particular can sustain a minute of non-action). Thirdly, he employed some wonderful cinematographic techniques to add a slice of the unfamiliar to the way the film was shot. Add this all together and you have a great, great film. From a performance point of view, what more can one say about Al Pacino and Robert De Niro? This is stellar stuff from go to whoa and on their own they elevate this film to great heights. One of the all time classic pieces of film has to be these two characters, at the exact opposite ends of the professional spectrum, sitting down over a coffee across the table from each other and basically daring each other to perform at their best in a forthcoming bank robbery. This is the kind of acting that we so rarely have the privilege of seeing. But the strong performances go beyond just these two stars. Pick any of the cast and you will see a great performance and this really does show how actors can really rise to the occasion when presented with talent to work with. I especially single out the performances of Amy Brenneman, as McCauley's girlfriend who is a little confused over her feelings for him as opposed to her disgust at what he does, Natalie Portman as Hanna's step daughter in a role for which she copped a nomination in the 1997 YoungStar Awards for best performance by a young actress in a drama film and Diane Venora as the suffering third wife of Hanna, unable to come to terms with his attachment to his job as opposed to her. The cinematography here is magnificent stuff indeed and captures so wonderfully the action sequences - of which there are a few. Highlights of course are the opening armoured car heist and one of the best gun battles ever committed to film in my opinion - not so much for the action but the way the entire event was captured in the film.
Do yourself a favour - get a hold of this film and give it a watch. It is superb stuff in general, with only a few spots where the onward movement stalls a little. And the climatic scene is as good a piece of "good guy/bad guy, who will win" stuff as you will see in a film.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
Another of those anamorphically filmed efforts that has resulted in a superb transfer, subject to a caveat. It is clear that Michael Mann had some definite intentions as to how this film was to look (not that we have the commentary to help us here mind you) and these have resulted in certain details not being as sharp as one would normally expect from the inherent enhanced resolution of an anamorphically shot film. This is especially noticeable in some of the night time shots where the background lights are slightly diffuse, resulting in a nice shimmery effect (then again, some of the night time shots were also the best bits about this transfer). This is not a transfer problem as I believe that is what Michael Mann intended, even though it is not what we would normally expect to see. In general, the backgrounds tend towards being a little diffuse, so as to emphasize the foreground action, which is always sharp with some very nice detail indeed, without being overly "edge enhanced" sharp. Shadow detail is occasionally a little wayward, but this again is a reflection of how Michael Mann wanted the film to look and is not a transfer problem. There did not appear to be any low noise problems with the transfer.
This is not an especially vibrant transfer but that again reflects the style of the film rather than a transfer problem. The result is a slightly muted colour palette that ultimately depicts the very essence of Los Angeles, where the film is set. Whilst the colours were not vibrant, they are beautifully rendered, and very consistently so, resulting in a remarkably consistent feel to the film that we often do not see. There is no hint of oversaturation at all in the transfer.
There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There was however a rather consistent problem with film-to-video artefacts throughout the transfer, mainly in the form of some minor aliasing that by its very frequency I found to be noticeable. This is somewhat of a disappointment, as with a bit more care in the compression, this should have been eliminated in my view. There was nothing really gross in the aliasing, just the mere consistency of it I found to be a problem as far as watching the film. The longer the film went on the more annoyed I got with the appearance of the aliasing. There was also the odd instance of what appeared to be moiré effect during the transfer, but I found this to be far less of an intrusion and barely noticeable in comparison to the aliasing. As you would expect from a relatively recent film, there were mercifully little evidence of any film artefacts, and those that were present were not in general much of a distraction.
This is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 78:43. The layer change is well placed, as whilst it is noticeable, it is by no means disruptive to the film.
Unfortunately, the usual problems of incorrect packaging once again beset a Warner's release: this time, the packaging credits an Italian subtitle option and an Italian for the Hearing Impaired subtitle option that are not present on the disc. The packaging does not mention the Romanian and Bulgarian subtitle options which are present on the disc. Is it really that difficult to get packaging details correct?
There are just two audio tracks on the DVD, both being Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts, one in English and one in French. As I have had no time to indulge in improving my conversational French, I stuck with the boring old English default soundtrack.
Apart from a couple of instances where dialogue was recorded at a low level, making it a little difficult to understand, the dialogue was clear and very understandable.
There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.
The musical score comes from Elliot Goldenthal, a name that I am unfamiliar with. On the basis of this superb effort, I should either be a heck of a lot more familiar with his work or he blew all his talent on this one effort. In my view, this is one of the best scores I have ever heard for a film, and not for the usual reasons - there are no great themes, no great orchestral stampedes and no wild extravagant percussion parts. What we do have here is an exquisitely subtle score that has some wonderful eclectic feel to it at times. This never really intrudes into the enjoyment of the film, but the subtlety is often there to be noticed if you want to take the time to notice it. This is a superb example of how underscoring can be more beneficial to a film and how the right ambience can be created often with the greatest of simplicity. I have to say that at times the on screen action mirrored the music rather than the other way round.
Apart from what I felt to be a little over-presence in the opening action sequence with the tow truck, this is a very nicely detailed and well balanced soundtrack. There is some wonderful ambient detail, especially during the restaurant scenes, albeit just a little too over-mixed in the overall soundscape. There is some nice variety in the soundscape at times, with some rather nice forward mixing of the gunshots during the shoot-out scene in particular. My non-DVD owning sister copped this part of the film and she was mightily impressed by it, even though this, like a number of scenes, mercifully avoided any real input from the subwoofer. Indeed, the subwoofer here tends to be rather under-utilized, although I for one am not complaining about it: it is refreshing to watch an action sequence without unnecessary bass emphasis, and it does make the occasions when the bass does really cut in all the more impressive, such as the taxiing aircraft at LAX. Not the best I have ever heard but by crickey there are not too many better.
A very good video transfer, unless you have a real problem with aliasing.
A very good audio transfer.
Extras? I could cry, I really could.
© Ian Morris
26th February 2000
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515; S-video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in|
|Amplification||Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|