Sony // 1999 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // February 9th, 2000
One cop. One killer. No clues. No time.
A surprisingly tense suspense thriller for an HBO release, starring Stephen Baldwin (Threesome, The Usual Suspects, One Tough Cop) in his usual stony-faced cop role. A spotty ending mars an otherwise very nice film; but this Columbia disc stands up to its usual visual and aural quality.
Another Stephen Baldwin cable movie, where he is a cop tracking a killer. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it? The best I figured I could expect is some mindless violence for 90 minutes or so, with ample time for HBO to use the rest of the 2 hour time slot hawking the 500th showing of Crocodile Dundee or something. I was wrong. There was surprisingly little graphic violence in the film, and was much more a detective story, where he realistically tries to identify and apprehend a serial killer. The pacing was all wrong for an HBO flick too; you don't normally take time to develop a story when the medium invites channel surfing. Usually you reserve plot development in the early part of a film for the theater, where you have a basically captive audience. This film actually takes advantage of Baldwin's weaknesses and works hard to give us a truly intense experience.
The plot itself is tough; it is about bad things happening to good people, and even more bad things following. The film begins 5 weeks after Stephen Baldwin's 6 year old son has been killed; by a child who brought a handgun to show off with at school, and accidentally kills him. Baldwin's wife is deeply grieved and depressed, but he has blocked off all emotion and goes through his life as though he were only partly there. This takes full advantage of Baldwin's notoriously wooden style. Don't get me wrong; I like him in general and in this film, but he's not what I would call overly expansive. Swallowing himself in his work, he is working long hours trying to find a serial killer who uses a hammer to bash his victims, then sticks around to clean up the mess afterwards; leaving an eerie scene that speaks of normality except of course the people are dead. Baldwin acts as if nothing is wrong, though his dreams belie his calm exterior as he has nightmares of his son. Tyne Daly (TV's Judging Amy) puts in a polished performance as a psychiatrist aiding the police investigation and attempting to help the grief stricken couple. As the investigation progresses one family comes to the foreground. The Gaskin family is a tragic story of abuse, with the father having committed unspeakable acts against his children. It is his children who become suspect for the murders, but which one? Silas Weir Mitchell gives a very believable performance as the elder Gaskin sibling, in a very difficult role. He tells the tale of the abusive childhood, of a father who beat him, cheated, and died of lung cancer from smoking like a chimney. You almost understand him as he plays an adulterous wife abuser who smokes like a chimney. I don't envy him his role, as he is certainly a despicable man, but he made a telling point about how people become abusers in the first place.
Things go from bad to worse for Baldwin, as he starts breaking regulations and ignoring his wife's deep problems in his effort to both find the killer and avoid dealing with his own problems. Even his wife's suicide attempt is only a temporary jolt into reality. Meanwhile the investigation proceeds and bears fruit, and the scenes where they are trying to catch the killer are tense. The soundtrack in particular adds a great deal to the film, I've heard few that gave such an eerie and intense feel to a scene.
This DVD stands up to Columbia's usual visual quality. The original aspect of 1.78.1 is an anamorphic transfer, which is amazing in itself since it was to be marketed to the full frame HBO medium. The picture quality isn't perfect, but pretty darn good. The only defect I found was in the dream sequences; the mist gave a bit of a pixelated look. Otherwise though, shadow detail was great, the dark scenes were clearly detailed and defined, and color saturation was full without bleeding.
I mentioned the soundtrack above, which was great for the score and dialogue, just a bit short in the gunshots. I don't really get that part because the score had an excellent frequency range with plenty of rumble from the sub. There aren't many gunshots anyway; as I said the film is low on the graphical violence meter.
Well, lets finish with the film first. I was immersed in the film, paying close attention, and the ending comes and I say "What?" I had to watch it twice to make sure I hadn't missed something. It turns out I did miss something; sort of. The ending is given barely enough information so you don't feel completely cheated. Barely. Overall I found the ending less than satisfactory, but it wasn't terrible. Overall the film is pretty good. It would have gotten an unconditional recommendation with a better ending though.
I also didn't mention the extras on the disc in my description. That is because once again we get two trailers and nothing else. We get the trailer for this film and One Tough Cop. No talent files, no production notes, and no commentary, which I would have really liked to hear. My biggest question could have been answered; which was about the cuts involved in the ending. I guess I'll never know.
I think the film is worth 99 minutes of your time. I'm not sure it's worth the price of the DVD. I'd rent it, or just catch it on HBO first. If you liked the film, including the ending after that then the disc is worth a purchase.
Stephen Baldwin is acquitted of any charges. Columbia is asked to please come back with the extras even on these catalog titles, so I can quit having any gripe with them. They're one of my favorite studios and I don't like being unhappy with them.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Stephen Baldwin Tribute Site