|Category||War Drama||Theatrical Trailer(s)||Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0|
|Rating||Other Trailer(s)||Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital City|
|Year Released||1997||Commentary Tracks||Yes, 1 - Predrag Antonijevic (Director)|
|Running Time||99:25 minutes||Other Extras||Biographies - Cast and Crew|
Columbia TriStar Home Video
|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)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
As for the film itself, it is somewhat of a pleasure to sit down and watch a film that is so obviously not out of the Hollywood system. I have said it before and I will say it again - in many ways, Hollywood is incapable of the sort of realism that is so obviously on display here. For this is a film, directed by Predrag Antonijevic who, if I remember the commentary correctly, hails from Serbia, that pulls very few punches, other than one or two in the name of decency - unlike some of the combatants in the Balkan conflicts - and the need to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating in the United States (equivalent to our R rating). Accordingly, about the only thing that we really don't get to see is the gory, bloody details of someone's head being reduced to pulp by the swinging of a large, wooden headed mallet. This is no apologetic romp that we have here, as this film is sending a very clear message to all parties involved in the mess in the Balkans - the whole thing is stupid in the extreme, and neither side is going to emerge from the mess with any semblance of honour or sympathy. Man is capable of such magnificent achievements, yet is also capable of the most inane brutality, often for no other reason than you have a different religious belief or have a different ethnic origin. Whilst not wishing to reduce this to a pontification, am I the only person who finds something rather depressing about the need for religious zealots to reduce themselves to gross inhumanities in the name of spreading the word of "their" god? Like all machismo displays, it serves no really useful purpose at all.
The story begins in Paris in 1987 where American soldier Joshua Rose (Dennis Quaid) loses his wife Maria (Natassja Kinski) and son Christian (Catlin Foster) in a terrorist bombing, presumably perpetuated by Muslim extremists (implied but not stated outright). Grief-stricken in the extreme, on the day his wife and son are to be transported home to the United States, Joshua retaliates by gunning down several innocent Muslims indulging in their religious devotions at a nearby mosque. Pulled away from the scene by colleague and friend Peter (Stellan Skarsgard), Joshua and Peter find themselves shortly thereafter in the Foreign Legion, where they become soldiers of fortune. The action then swings to Bosnia in 1993, where Joshua (now operating under his new Legion identity of Guy) has been reduced to a shell of a man without humanity, calmly picking off enemy soldiers and local children who happen to wander onto a bridge that marks the edge of Serb/Muslim territory. Out of the horrors and atrocities of the conflict, Guy seeks to find own humanity again, which is a little difficult when Peter has been murdered by a grenade tossed by a young Muslim girl into his gun position, and when your new "partner" Goran (Sergej Trifunovic) is a Serb soldier on the edge of insanity. But the arrival of a young pregnant woman, Vera (Natasa Ninkovic), in a prisoner exchange provides the spark that may yet restore his humanity, especially after he kills Goran to save the woman and her new born child (the result of a Muslim rapist?) from being killed. The story unfolds as a rather incriminating expose of the irrationality of the war in Bosnia, that frankly many of us in Australia may have a little difficulty in grasping: I mean, how can we relate in real terms to a father who is quite willing to murder his own daughter who has brought "shame" upon the family by being raped and bearing what is apparently a Serb/Muslim baby? The real highlights here though are the staging of atrocities, especially with the massacre of the riders on a bus at the hands of some rather crude implements wielded by a suitably warped Muslim soldier.
There are many things slightly different about this film, but none more so than the fact that the opening is something that the director did not want and it results in possibly one of the shortest roles ever in a film by the lead actress! Everything up to the end of the opening credits is apparently pretty much an afterthought inflicted upon Predrag Antonijevic by the American producers of the film (including one Oliver Stone - and comparisons to the film Platoon are made), and deemed by the director as unnecessary back story. Personally, I disagree a little with the director here, but once the film really gets going, there is little to disagree with. Dennis Quaid gives a stunning performance as the soldier stripped completely of his humanity and struggling in a foreign land under an assumed identity to recover that humanity. This is the best thing I have seen him do since The Right Stuff, and possibly even surpasses that effort. Obviously with such a limited appearance not much comment can be passed upon the performance of Natassja Kinski, but it always a pleasure to see her in a film. The real stars here though are the "local" actors (the film was shot in Montenegro, so authenticity is guaranteed). Sergej Trifunovic is suitably eccentric as the marginally sane Serbian soldier, who sees nothing wrong in slicing off the finger of an elderly Muslim woman to get her ring, or beating the living daylights out of the heavily pregnant sister of a local villager. But the real gem of a performance comes from Natasa Ninkovic as the despised Serb returning home with a Muslim bastard child. A gloriously steely performance it is and on the evidence here, she deserves far greater exposure outside of her native land. A lot of the film was shot with 800mm and 400mm lenses by Predrag Antonijevic and this creates a rather stunning visuality to the film, as much appears as if through the eyes of Guy. Sure it results in some flaws but it wonderfully encapsulates the single-mindedness of the dehumanized Guy, and slowly leads out to more normally shot sequences as the humanity of Guy comes through. On the evidence here, his too is a name that deserves greater exposure.
This is a powerful film, that pulls no punches and comes across as authentic in the extreme. It is claimed to be based upon a true story, and it is so convincing that I am not going to doubt the claim. This is not a film to turn to for mindless entertainment but a film that commands your respect. Definitely a film to get a hold of at least once.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.
What can one say about this transfer? It is a damn typical example of Columbia TriStar's mastery of the DVD medium, and there is not too much to complain about here at all. Nicely sharp, bearing in mind the constraints of shooting close ups on 800mm lenses, with some rather nice detail that at times absolutely shines. Shadow detail is generally very good, with the odd (deliberate) let down for emphasis more than anything else (like a transfer problem). Occasionally a little grainy, but nothing too serious and a style that actually suits the gritty nature of the film very well indeed. There did not appear to be any low noise problems with the transfer.
This is a quite vibrant transfer, even though the colour palette is obviously quite muted. You are not going to find bright, flashy greens here for instance. The overall effect is a gloriously realistic feel that is utterly believable and quite compelling. There is no hint of oversaturation at all in the transfer.
There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There was no problem with film-to-video artefacts, unless you want to be really churlish and mention a few extremely minor and barely noticeable instances of aliasing. As you would expect from a relatively recent film, there were few film artefacts, and those that were present were not a distraction to the film.
Overall, what we have here is your typical Columbia TriStar effort that really generates nothing but praise, and that leaves the efforts of just about all other issuers generally floundering in their wake. Interestingly too, and much appreciated by the way, they have resisted the temptation to inflict additional subtitles in English on the English audio track for dialogue spoken in Serbian. What subtitles that do appear are part of the original theatrical release, although they are not all encompassing.
There are just two audio tracks on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I listened to both tracks.
Apart from a couple of instances where dialogue was recorded at a low level, the dialogue was clear and easy to understand.
There did not appear to be any audio sync problems with the transfer (well it is Columbia TriStar after all).
The musical score comes from David Robbins, and a nicely understated effort it is too, drawing quite heavily by the sounds of it from local folk tunes. This sets a really nice tone to the film throughout and really adds to the authenticity on display.
Where this stands out though is the marvellously restrained use of the bass channels. Unlike a Hollywood effort where the bass would have been maxed out to emphasize the explosions and so on, this goes for a much more diffuse style of bass that is extremely convincing in my view. There is also some gorgeous detail at times out of the rear channels, especially at one point where there are some lovely background shelling noises. The surround channels do not get an extreme workout here but overall I felt this to be a completely believable soundscape that is nicely encompassing. There is a lot of space in the sound so that nothing seems to be too congested and everything has a chance to bloom nicely. This is the sort of stuff that I like.
A very good video transfer.
A very good audio transfer.
A very nice extras package.
© 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|