A Better Way to Die (2000)

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Released 11-Apr-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Audio Commentary-Scott Wiper (Writer/Director/Actor)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 97:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Scott Wiper
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Andre Braugher
Joe Pantoliano
Natasha Henstridge
Lou Diamond Phillips
Mirjana Jokovic
Matt Gallini
Wayne Duvall
Benjamin John Parrillo
Scott Wiper
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $36.95 Music John M. Keane


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Swedish
Turkish
German Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    A Better Way To Die is another one of those films that I was unaware of the existence of until it came up for allocation. All the same, I liked the sound of the title, so I stuck my hand up for this effort. The title is really quite apt, as Andre Braugher is the only lead listed on the front cover whose character doesn't die with less than fifteen minutes total screen time, making it really hard to care exactly what happens to most of them.

    The film begins with Fletcher (Jack Conley), Carlos (Carmen Argenziano), and Boomer (Scott Wiper) rehearsing for a drug bust. Boomer, a fresh-faced rookie, is nervous, and proceeds to empty the contents of his stomach all over the road before Carlos gives him a little tutoring in how to talk to gangsters, complete with tips on the proper use of profanity and self-scratching. Unfortunately, one of the undercover agents who arranged the deal, Rico, didn't do such a good job of concealing his undercover status, and we are shown his dead body before the dealers pull out their arsenal. Carlos gets his head blown off while Fletcher and Boomer proceed to kill every one of the dealers, with Fletcher proceeding to kill two of the suspects while they were down and unable to resist. Boomer is not too impressed by this turn of events, but Fletcher couldn't care less since one of his colleagues is dead.

    We then see Special Agent Harrison James (Jefferson Moore) as he calls an old contact, Yanosh Rifkin (Wayne Duvall), and his ex-wife, Salvy (Mirjana Jokovic). Neither of them are too impressed with him, although only Rifkin actually bothers to answer his call and tell him that. He is about to turn over a file to a contact in the Bureau, but his suspicions that he is walking into a setup turn out to be correct, and he flees to a place he calls Canyon. We then catch up with a special agent by the name of William Dexter (Lou Diamond Phillips), who is assigned to locate Harrison and retrieve whatever information Harrison might have. As it turns out, Harrison was investigating an internal spy ring run by a man named Charles Van Adder, who has reorganized two crime families that William shut down in order to work against the government. Meanwhile, Salvy has hired a detective who calls himself Flash (Joe Pantoliano) to track Harrison down and bring him back alive. The crime families that Harrison narrowly escaped from also decide to go looking for him, and send their best man, Laslov (Matt Gallini) after him with the instructions to get Harrison and the data he is carrying back by any means necessary.

    Meanwhile, Boomer is unable to decide which way to go, feeling that he cannot make it as a policeman in the city of Chicago without Carlos. He calls his old girlfriend, Kelly (Natasha Henstridge), who detests the city of Chicago and tells her that he has quit the department for good, as well as the fact that he wants to be with her. Along the way, however, he is ambushed by a pair of thieves on the road, who take his car and leave him to lie in the middle of the road, where Flash picks him up. Unfortunately, along the way to the next town, they are ambushed by Laslov and his two partners, the rather nasty Cleveland (Andre Braugher) and his cousin Lou (B'nard Lewis), who proceed to kill Flash and leave Boomer lying in a corn field on the side of the road. Boomer is then picked up by Salvy, who entices him into helping her find Harrison James. Unfortunately, Laslov and his men have mistaken Boomer for Harrison, and they proceed to give Boomer's description to everyone in the area who is aligned with Van Adder, telling them he is Harrison.

    As to who Charles Van Adder actually is, I'll leave you to view the film in order to find that out. I'm not entirely sure I can recommend A Better Way To Die as entertainment, since I really felt worse for having viewed it. However, if you're sick to death of happy endings and stars angling for an unjustified amount of screen time, this is a film to take a look at. Given that this is only Scott Wiper's third writing effort, or his second directing effort, I look forward to reviewing more of his work in the future, even though this one wasn't such a big hit with me.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Once again, Columbia Tristar have brought us an excellent transfer with little to complain about.

    The transfer is presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The transfer is razor-sharp throughout, with the only exceptions being what appeared to be lapses in focus. The shadow detail of the transfer is excellent, with plenty of subtle steps between the light and the dark on offer, making the picture seem all that more immaculate. There is no low-level noise or film grain.

    The colour saturation is rich and true to whatever environment the scenes are being shot in. Most of the film takes place in environments with rich reds and greens, all of which are captured so impeccably as to resemble a series of professional still photographs. The scenes in Chicago feature perfect cold blues, all of which are impeccably rendered. If you want to see an example of DVD's superior ability to render colours, this is the disc to look at.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem for this transfer, and I'd really like to know exactly what encoder they are using at the Sony Pictures DVD Center, because it produces the sort of quality at bitrates of five megabits per second that others only achieve at ten megabits per second, if they do at all. Film-to-video artefacts were only mildly problematic, with only the faintest hints of aliasing in car chrome and venetian blinds. Film artefacts were more or less completely restricted to the opening credits, with a few nicks and scratches on the picture appearing there. Afterwards, the only film artefacts to be found are black and white spots on the picture that are so small you could miss them even if you were looking for them.

Audio

    Once again, Columbia Tristar have brought us an audio transfer with little, if anything, to complain about.

    There are three audio transfers on this disc: the original English dialogue and a German dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, and an audio commentary by Scott Wiper in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround encoding. I stuck with the English dialogue and the audio commentary, although some of the dialogue would sound quite interesting in German. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, with little or no effort required to understand what is being said by even the most difficult actors. There were no discernible problems with audio sync.

    Scott Wiper speaks in glowing terms about composer John M. Keane during his commentary, and this score definitely justifies the praise. The frantic energy of the score is quite infectious, giving some scenes a new level of excitement when they could just as easily have fallen flat. The combination of different musical styles also helps keep the score music going, and results in one of the better efforts I have heard from a small production.

    The surround channels are used periodically to support the sounds of gunshots, passing trains, and other such ambient sounds. The soundtrack is rather frontal in nature, with the majority of the film coming out of the front and centre channels. When the action sequences began, all six channels exploded in a cornucopia of bangs and booms. It's hard to say whether this soundtrack is truly enveloping, as the constant killing-off of the characters made it hard to really involve oneself in the action at all. Suffice it to say that the soundtrack will keep you entertained during the action scenes. The subwoofer was used throughout the film to support gunshots, explosions, and other bass-heavy noises. It was somewhat more integrated into the overall soundtrack than the surround channels, giving a more consistent presence that made its usage less conspicuous.

Extras

    There is only one true extra on this disc. Thankfully, it is an audio commentary.

Menu

    The menu is animated and accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. It is 16x9 Enhanced.

Dolby Digital Trailer - City

    Overlong, overly loud, unpleasant to look at, and ultimately annoying because it is always engineered to be 5 decibels louder than the feature. My opinion of Dolby gets lower every time I see this blight upon the format.

Audio Commentary - Scott Wiper (Writer/Director/Actor)

    This audio commentary is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding and a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. Scott Wiper pauses quite often, but when he speaks, he has something really interesting to say about the actors and the processes by which he got the best out of everybody. It isn't exactly the most riveting commentary you'll ever hear, but Scott Wiper demonstrates that he knows his craft and wants to create something worth watching.

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;     It is somewhat disappointing that we are not provided with any biographies or the theatrical trailer, but these omissions are somewhat trivial. It comes down to a choice between the extra resolution of PAL or two extras that might not be worth the space they take up anyway.

Summary

    A Better Way To Die is the kind of film that will make you wonder if the director intended to make you feel miserable while entertaining you. I still don't know quite what to say about it without sounding confused and puzzled.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The audio transfer is rather frontal in nature, but otherwise very good.

    The extras consist of a commentary.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Sunday, April 08, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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