Hudson Hawk

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Details At A Glance

Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - DVD trailer #2
Year Released 1991 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Michael Lehmann (Director)
Running Time 95:55 minutes Other Extras Filmographies - Cast
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Michael Lehmann

Columbia TriStar
Starring Bruce Willis
Danny Aiello 
Andie MacDowell
Richard E Grant 
Sandra Bernhard
Donald Burton
James Coburn
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Michael Kamen
Robert Kraft

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 2.0
16 x 9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    Upon release in 1991, Hudson Hawk was pretty unmercilessly panned by the critics, so I approached the film with a degree of reluctance. Which goes to show that you should not always believe what the critics have to say! About the only thing wrong with this film is that it was not the all-out action film that perhaps you would have expected from Bruce Willis. What we do get is at times a quite amusing, tongue-in-cheek poke at the action film genre in general, laced with some jokes that perhaps some might not quite get, and others that admittedly simply fall flat on their face.

    Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) is a famed cat burglar who has just completed an extended stay in Sing Sing jail, when he is approached by his parole officer Gates (Burt Harris) to undertake one more heist from an auction house - the theft of a rare treasure by Leonardo da Vinci (which is highlighted in the rather unusual opening sequence). But it turns out to be something a bit more than it is, especially when the successful heist is reported in the newspapers as a thwarted heist. Hudson decides to visit the auction to see what gives since he definitely got the goods, and meets up with Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell) who turns out to be a number of things she does not appear to be. Through a rather convoluted series of events, which includes one of the most ridiculous (but enjoyable) car sequences ever committed to film, Hudson, his partner Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) and Anna end up in Rome undertaking a job for and/or trying to prevent a job by a group acting for Darwin Mayflower (Richard E Grant) and his wife Minerva (Sandra Bernhard). The whole "who is working for whom" scenario gets a little complicated, but then that is part of the fun, as is the switching of settings from New York to Rome.

    This actually is not too bad a story, although the commentary indicates that the whole film went through a number of rewrites, which would account for the very developed nature of some of the characters. Whilst there is no doubt that a number of jokes simply did not work, this does come across as a very tongue-in-cheek effort, and Bruce Willis does a suitably engaging job in the lead role. Danny Aiello is a very effective sidekick and the scenes involving their singing songs to time the robbery are a joy to watch. The very late casting of Andie MacDowell in the role of Anna does not seem to have harmed her performance in any way and she comes across in just the right way as the slightly confused sister come international treasure thief. The tongue-in-cheek aspect of the film is highlighted by the way, way over the top performances of Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhard, and this is probably where the film lost everyone who thought this was supposed to be an action flick. There is not a cat's chance in hell that you could believe these performances in anything other than an almost cartoonish comedy - which is what director Michael Lehmann and Bruce Willis were aiming for it would seem. There is a lot of exposition set up in the story that may fly over the heads of some, but for those who get the film, this is what makes the film. And I suppose at the end of the day, you either get this film and enjoy it or you completely miss the point and loathe it. I doubt that there is too much middle ground with this wonderfully different poke at the action genre.

Transfer Quality


    And this is another wonderful Columbia TriStar transfer, especially bearing in mind that it is eight years old.

    The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer was beautifully sharp virtually throughout, with some absolutely gorgeous detail that smacks of a film no more than a year or two old. Some of the scenes in Rome are especially gorgeous, and extremely inviting. The transfer has a very nice clarity to it and at no time does this show any hint of descending into murkiness, despite the prevalence of night-time scenes or dark settings. The shadow detail was generally very good, and the opening sequence in particular really grabs you with all the wonderful detail it holds. The only blemish was the odd lapse to a slightly grainy picture for a few brief moments during the film - which may or may not be an indication of some low level noise in the transfer.

    The colours are gorgeously rich throughout the film, marvellously saturated and wonderfully vibrant in outdoor daylight scenes. For a film from the very early nineties, this was very unexpected and rivals some of the very best that I have seen this year. There was no over saturation of colours at all, despite the very rich tone of the transfer.

    This is a quite amazingly clean transfer for an eight year old film. There were no significant MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer, nor did there appear to be any film-to-video artefacts. Even film artefacts were conspicuous by their relative absence from the film.


    Whilst we only have a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround soundtrack, it is a very good one and I barely noticed the lack of a 5.1 remaster.

    There are six audio tracks on the DVD: English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded, French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded, German Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (perversely), Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtracks. I listened to the English default and the English Audio Commentary.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand throughout the film.

    There were no apparent audio sync problems with the disc.

    The score by Michael Kamen and Robert Kraft is a reasonable effort that does as much as it can at times to not sound too much like an action film soundtrack. But overall, your attention is not too drawn to the music which I guess makes it an effective soundtrack.

    Whilst this is only a surround encoded soundtrack, I really do not miss a 5.1 effort at all. The surround channel was very effectively used and it was only in the really obvious explosions that the lack of a 5.1 soundtrack was mildly noted. Not that this is an overly well detailed soundtrack, but there was an effective balance to the use of the surround channel that creates a very believable sound picture. You seem to be very much a part of the action as a result. There was no use made of the bass channel.


    A rather unusual extras selection here since we lack a theatrical trailer but get an audio commentary. I would suspect that this was more due to the need to keep the contents to a single layer disc rather than any lack of availability.


Audio Commentary - Michael Lehmann (Director)

    A nicely different style of commentary as he did not feel the need to fill all 96 minutes with words, but rather was willing to allow silence until something needed comment. He is almost apologetic for all the failed gags in the film, but certainly makes sure that you finally get to understand what was trying to be achieved. He provides all the right insights into where the inspirations for gags came from and what was trying to be achieved, and this is a very enjoyable listen.

Filmographies - Cast and Crew

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     The presence of those trailers would probably tip the scales of preferred version to Region 1 although we do have the inherent superiority of the PAL system.
[Ed. I disagree and would call this a tie.]


    It is quite easy to see why Hudson Hawk was not well received upon release, as it is not the action film that everyone would have been expecting (I can just imagine the puzzled looks as the film started with the setting in Leonardo da Vinci's time). However, if you approach this with a degree of open-mindedness, you will hopefully see as I have that this is a wonderful effort at a tongue-in-cheek send up of the action genre that just perhaps slightly missed the mark. Nonetheless I found it to be very entertaining and would recommend it to all - but suggest that if you need action to enjoy Bruce Willis, that perhaps you rent first.

    A very good video transfer indeed.

    A good audio transfer.

    A decent extras package, solely because of the audio commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
6th December 1999

Review Equipment
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