Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Johnny Handsome Blu-ray Review

When this movie was released in 1989 it I don’t remember hearing about it and I’d never seen it until now.  At the time of this movie’s release, Mickey Rourke was near the beginning of his career free-fall after a decade of hits.  After this movie failed, his roller-coaster career began which is a shame because he did some good work in this movie.  It all has a happy ending however, as The Wrestler brought him back front and center and he just played the main villain in Iron Man 2 so it will be interesting to see where his career goes now. I wonder if he will make risky choices like he did with this movie in the future and gamble with his new-found cachet.  Johnny Handsome was a gamble no doubt about it and in some ways it pays off but not entirely.

THE FILM  (3 out of 5 stars)

The film has an impressive pedigree that’s for sure.  Starting with Director Walter Hill (48 Hours), Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Ellen Barkin, Lance Henrikson, and Elizabeth McGovern, this is a cast to be reckoned with.  In fact, it’s fairly surprising that this many good people got involved in this based on the script which really isn’t very good.  The movie makes an effort to be a modern day film noir and has a lot of the right elements but it just didn’t gel for me like it should have.

The movie opens with some petty criminals planning a job to rob a collector coin store.  Rourke’s character John Sedley is a disfigured crook with a talent for planning heists.  Because of his disfigurement, he is mockingly called Johnny Handsome and is treated shabbily by his fellow thieves Rafe (Lance Henrikson) and Sunny (Ellen Barkin).  The only person who seems to stand up for him is his friend and partner in crime Mickey (Scott Wilson).   As these movies usually go, there is a betrayal and John ends up getting caught by the police with revenge on his mind. In jail John gets knifed and ends up going to the hospital where Dr. Fisher (Forest Whitaker) attempts to help John not only heal but change his life.  He proposes that John undergo radical facial surgery to remove his disfigurement as well as speech therapy so he can start a new life as a new person with no temptation for crime.

Of course not everyone believes John can be rehabilitated, as Lt. Drones (Morgan Freeman) makes clear. He believes that a new face won’t change the person underneath and he is convinced that John will return to his criminal ways as soon as he is released.  When John does get paroled, he faces two paths, one of revenge against Rafe and Sunny and one with the new woman in his life Donna (Elizabeth McGovern) who is trying to help to adjust to a normal life.   The tension between the two worlds gives the movie the momentum to build to the inevitable climax when the two worlds collide.

Mickey Rourke deserves a lot of credit for tackling this role in the manner he did.  Not only did he undergo a lot of prosthetics to deform his good looks, but also changed his speech and transformed himself impressively.  Spending the majority of the movie in this fashion, the movie isn’t able to rely on his looks and charm as they had in the past.  His role isn’t the flashy “Look, I’m playing a handicapped person, give me an Oscar,” kind of performance but a serious effort to play the role with no frills or fuss.  Morgan Freeman is excellent as always but this was a kind of character I haven’t seen him play for a long time.  Lately, he’s been nothing but noble, kind, and benevolent in the movies he’s been doing and it was a jolt to see him as a cynical, distrustful, and seen it all kind of detective.  Henrikson and Barkin are both great in their roles and I had forgotten how good Barkin was in those days.  It’s a shame she left the movies for awhile as the early 90s were very good to her.  Director Walter Hill can always be counted on to provide some good action and he doesn’t fail to deliver here although I wouldn’t have minded some more.

VIDEO  (2 out of 5 stars)

This disc is a mixed bag as far as visual quality goes.  The 1080p 1.85.1 anamorphic wide-screen transfer has it’s good moments but for some reason there are an equal amount of moments that look soft and overly grainy.  The colors are drab, the contract is only good during daylight scenes and you can count on the scenes at night to look terrible.  I don’t know if the transfer could be done better or if that’s the best we’re going to get from the film stock used but most likely it’s a money issue and the studio isn’t willing to pay a lot to restore a catalog disc.  If you have the DVD and are wondering if you should upgrade, I would say this is a little better than what you have but just don’t expect too much.

AUDIO  (3 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HD 2.0 track does the job especially with the action scenes but there wasn’t any real use of the rear speakers although most of the dialogue scenes were presented well.  This is one of those movies that really kick up the volume on the sound effects so be prepared for that.  The disc also offers optional subtitles in Spanish and French and also has a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES  (3 out of 5 stars)

The special features didn’t look all that interesting but I was wrong as they did have some interesting information about the film.  I would have preferred a commentary track with Hill and the cast, but these featurettes weren’t too bad compared to some of the discs I’ve been reviewing lately that have been basically skimping by with a trailer.  On the disc are the following featurettes:
  • Wordsmith (12:39) – Writer Ken Friedman talks about the Film Noir aspects of the movie and how those changed the plot and look of the film.

  • Eye Of The Beholder (10:15) – Provides a glimpse into the production of the movie with an emphasis on Mickey Rourke.

  • Action Man (11:12) – A talk with second unit Director Allan Graff about the set pieces the second unit filmed.

FINAL THOUGHTS  (3 out of 5 stars)

Ultimately, the movie had the right cast and director but it still didn’t thrill me like I hoped it would.  I love Film Noir and a lot of the film worked for me but at the same time a lot of it didn’t.  Between plot holes, muddled character motivations, this movie could have used some more time refining the script.  The fact that the cast elevates this as much as they do is a testament to their abilities.
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