DEJ // 2003 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // May 28th, 2004
Your time is up.
I expected very little from A Good Night to Die. And that's what I got.
This story takes place in the life of two contract killers in New York on a very stressful and full day. August (Michael Rapaport, Deep Blue Sea) is a fairly inexperienced killer who has been taken under the wing of Ronnie (Gary Stretch, Dead Dogs Lie). The two have become friends, but there are some serious problems. The biggest problem is that August isn't very bright, and has killed the wrong person by accident. Being the good friend that he is, Ronnie is stuck doing an unpleasant favor to save August's life.
This is yet another film that tries to take a ride on the post-Tarantino crime-action/comedy train but gets derailed along the way. It has a pair of hit men who philosophize about the job, have strange encounters with odd characters, and have wide-ranging conversations about popular culture.
The first big problem is the script. Robert Dean Klein, the man responsible, tries so hard to write clever dialogue that he forgets to place it in a story that viewers will care about. It has all the tricks -- it jumps back and forth through time, it uses multiple narrators, and there are clever conversations about movies and music. All of it feels so stale, though, because nothing new or worthwhile is brought to the table. The clever dialogue in Pulp Fiction works so well because it's genuinely clever, fresh, and funny. The dialogue connects to what we know about the characters and makes sense in that context. In A Good Night to Die, it feels like the story was written around a few clever bits of dialogue that sometimes work and sometimes just sound dumb.
Most of the other aspects of the film feel the same way. The supporting cast is so silly and over the top that it felt like a series of Saturday Night Live sketches rather than scenes from a longer film. When the last half-hour of the film suddenly gets serious, exploring the implications of friendship in the lives of hit men, it falls apart even more. The character of August is obnoxious and grating, especially when he is narrating. As a final kick in the stomach, there is a "surprise" ending that you can see from about halfway through.
I have a few conceptual problems with the film as well. There are a lot of assassins in the story, and they seem to work several times a day. How many contract killers are there in New York? Most of them act in a sloppy, unprofessional manner, like shooting a woman in a cab downtown, spraying blood all over the windows, then driving around the city in broad daylight. These are professionals; can't they set up better plans than that?
There are a couple redeeming factors. Gary Stretch, whose work I have never seen before, puts in a great performance as Ronnie. It's a solid role and he nails it. He has a smooth charisma, has a strong physical presence, and delivers his lines with just the right tone. His performance deserves to be in a better film than this. There is a pretty cool little claymation sequence as he remembers his childhood, which worked really well.
The cinematography is also quite solid. While some of the camera angles feel contrived, such as the Requiem for a Dream influenced character camera, it is a fun movie to watch most of the time.
Unfortunately, the cinematography is pretty much ruined by the full frame video transfer on the disc. Some of it is clearly cropped, although most of it was shot open matte so that there is a whole lot of empty space at the top and bottom of the picture. This is not acceptable. The time has come to embrace widescreen DVDs as the future of home theatre.
The stereo track is better than the picture, but not by a whole lot. The music comes through well, but the dialogue is sometimes obscured when there are conversations between several people.
There aren't really any special features on the disc. There's a theatrical trailer, which not only completely misrepresents the film but also gives away part of the ending.
This movie is guilty. Gary Stretch spends most of the movie trying to keep his friend alive, and his performance is the only thing keeping me from giving A Good Night to Die the death sentence. Instead, I order it to be imprisoned for life with all of the other cheap Tarantino rip-offs that are plaguing our theatres and video store shelves. Get this disgrace out of my courtroom.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R