Last Dance (1996)

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Released 10-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 98:47
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Bruce Beresford
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Sharon Stone
Rob Morrow
Randy Quaid
Peter Gallagher
Jack Thompson
Jayne Brook
Pamala Tyson
Skeet Ulrich
Don Harvey
Diane Sellers
Patricia French
Jeffrey Ford
Dave Hager
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Mark Isham


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Icelandic
Portuguese
Greek
Hebrew
Russian
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     The issue of capital punishment is one of the most polarising topics of debate. It inflames impassioned arguments on both sides of the spectrum, and very little middle ground seems to be available. In the interests of transparency, I will declare that I have been a firm opponent of the death penalty ever since reading Clarence Darrow's summation of the Leopold & Loeb Case when I was 14 years of age, and even my bio will show that Dead Man Walking is right up there in my Top Ten of movies.

     And therein lies the rub. Dead Man Walking was released the year prior to Last Dance, and the comparisons were going to be inevitable. Before we arrive at the inevitable comparative study, let's relate the plot for Last Dance.

     Rick Hayes (Rob Morrow) is the somewhat shiftless younger lawyer brother of John Hayes (Peter Gallagher), aide to the governor of an unnamed American state (played by Jack Thompson in what looks like a reprisal of his role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). He is given a nepotic position in the Clemency Department under the jaundiced supervision of Sam Burns (Randy Quaid). Hayes the younger has of late managed to elude most responsibility in his existence, but that becomes challenged on encountering Cindy Liggett (Sharon Stone), a bitter and hopeless double murderess awaiting news of her execution date. Hayes mistakenly assumes that being employed by the Clemency Department requires him to acquire clemency for his clients. Poor, naive ingénue. Actually, his job is supposed to be to do nothing while the governor takes credit for his state's "hard line" approach to crime.

     Hayes also discovers that his desire to have Cindy's sentence commuted to life imprisonment is hardly shared by Cindy herself. Her years spent languishing on death row have apparently "rehabilitated" her to a resignation towards her fate. Rick discovers that there is critical mitigating evidence surrounding her crime that was never raised by her defence counsel during her original trial. He sets about trying to win Cindy's trust and re-instilling in her some desire for life while he fights to get a stay of execution in order to have time for a review of her trial. As his and Cindy's bond begins to deepen, his professional standing crumbles in inverse proportion, putting him at odds with the governor, his big brother and Sam until eventually he becomes persona non grata.

     I do not wish to risk spoiling the outcome of this film, particularly as the denouement is its strongest point, so I shall leave the question of whether or not Rick was successful unanswered and move on to address the aforementioned comparisons.

     It's literally impossible not to consider Dead Man Walking while viewing Last Dance. I have made it a habit lately of postponing writing up my reviews of a film until at least a day has gone by. This gives me a chance to allow the movie to percolate a little and ripen in my mind. My immediate impression after finishing Last Dance was "not a patch on DMW." But of course, that begs the question why.

     In the first instance, the actual plot lines are not dissimilar. Both focus on inmates who are doomed to state execution. In both instances, ultimately, there is no question of their guilt of the crimes for which they are convicted. And both films also feature an "outsider" who builds a relationship with the convicted party and journey with them in their Death Row experience. In the case of DMW, the focus is on the internal landscape of the participants, in LD, there is a stronger emphasis on the political structure surrounding the death penalty. But in terms of exploration, depth of emotion, authenticity and impact, Dead Man Walking is a far superior film. We are forced to confront the reality and the humanity of each participant in the story, and the pain and anguish we feel is real and spread amongst the many individuals impacted by the crime.

     Conversely, in Last Dance, the script written by Steven Haft and Ron Koslow somehow keeps us remote from the inner workings of the characters. For all that Sharon Stone does an excellent job in portraying an intelligent and real women in Liggett, the construct of the film keeps us at a distance from her and all the other characters. We should care a great deal more about a number of the characters, but we don't. Director Bruce Beresford has, in my opinion, created a story that has so many little red herrings and visual asides that the intent of the story is irretrievably diluted. The final dramatic scene is one of the few which evokes a genuine emotional response from the viewer, and as the site Death Penalty Info will attest, this is not entirely a dramatic fiction. And that's another issue I had with this film. There are so many impactful, question-raising genuine cases in real life on this issue that it's almost strange to create a fictional case. One of the potent elements of Dead Man Walking was that the viewer could not placate oneself with the thought, "well, it's only a story." We were very aware that this was a real story, about real people, and we as a society need to be clear about why we do the things we do.

     Last Dance is not a bad film. It's definitely a victim of timing and comparison, and "twisting" the story by making it a female on Death Row was by no means enough to save it from negative comparisons. Morrow's performance as Rick is damp and there is no authenticity in the supposedly developing warmth between Rick and Cindy. It's a shame really, because instead of an examination of the legal and moral minefield of capital punishment, what results is a piece of cinema that seems to limp from cliché to cliché. Certainly not one of Beresford's best.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but it is not 16x9 enhanced.

     Overall, the transfer is quite soft, although the detail is actually okay through the softness. Almost every interior scene is marred with so much haze that it looks like each film was filmed through a smoke machine. There is minimal low level noise and

     The colour palette was quite flat with an emphasis on pinkish, rosy hues which looked very strange given the subject matter. Skin tones were mostly all right, with a slight tendency to ruddiness. There was quite a degree of colour halation, particularly through the "smoke haze" mentioned earlier.

     There is telecine wobble in the credits, which is never a good starting sign. Grain levels were unreasonably high and there was aliasing present throughout. Compression was also problematic at times, resulting in loss of detail in mid and backgrounds. There was motion blur present throughout and moiré effects appeared on the regular appearance of tweedy jackets throughout the film. Film artefacts were present at an unacceptably high level.

     Subtitles were generally accurate and timely.

     I detected no layer change in this presentation.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are two audio tracks on this DVD - an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I listened to the English soundtrack entirely, and very briefly the Spanish, which appeared similar to the English version in quality and intensity.

     The dialogue was mostly clear and audible. Audio sync was fine. The dialogue remained nondirectional throughout the film, and despite the presentation in 5.1, there was very little use of the surround speakers.

     Similarly, the subwoofer barely puffed out a woof throughout the presentation.

     The music provided by Mark Isham was, in my opinion, utterly unremarkable. I think he did a much more effective job in the superb Moonlight Mile and, at the risk of earning your ire for making the comparison again, it's another area where Dead Man Walking did so much better - the music in that film was just extraordinary.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There are no extras on this disc.

Menu

      The menu design is static and silent and very straightforward.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

       The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

     A 16x9 enhanced presentation is probably sufficiently compelling to opt for the R1 version.

Summary

     The transfer is ordinary and the subject matter, sadly, is likewise. Stone proves that even her best efforts (and overall they were good) are not sufficient to rescue an indifferent script. Not a proud feather for Beresford's directorial cap.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Saturday, January 10, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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