Blue Underground // 1973 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // January 15th, 2003
Makes Death Wish look like wishful thinking!
I've never seen a movie quite like Revolver. The best descriptor I can muster is "spaghetti thriller." It's a 1970s crime drama with a bit of Dirty Harry, a helping of Reservoir Dogs, a few drops of eau de western, a scoop of melodrama, and a dash of political commentary. Though it oscillates between boredom and epic, Revolver delivers the kind of entertainment that today's movies can only parody. If you buy into the characters, you'll be treated to a satisfying drama. If modern sensibilities prevent that, you can at least enjoy the campier aspects and delight in the commanding score.
Vito the prison warden (Oliver Reed) is relaxing with his nubile young wife when he is called in to quell a prison disturbance. He does so with no-nonsense brutality and goes home to find his wife missing. The phone rings ominously. Vito is told to release Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi), a small-time crook, or else his wife's gonna get it, see?
Vito is a direct kind of guy. Before long, he has kidnapped Milo to get to the bottom of this heinous plot. Milo has no idea who sprung him, or why, which is the first puzzler in this dizzying web of intrigue. What does a pop singer have to do with it? Who has Vito's wife? When Vito learns the truth, he must make some hard sacrifices.
One thing I appreciate about Revolver is that it doesn't end when you think it should. In most movies, Vito would either find his wife and live happily ever after, or find her dead and kill the lowlife scum responsible, walking out to meet the police. Revolver has an original ending that leads you to think about the deeper message of sacrifice.
If you want to see a top-notch DVD treatment, you owe it to yourself to check out a Blue Underground release. I've viewed two now, and both were most impressive in their attention to detail. The movie is cool and all, but the extras make it come alive. I don't know whether Revolver was really that exceptional a movie or if the marketing is just top notch, but after watching this DVD package, you will think very highly of everyone involved. Little things stand out. The movie is under two hours, but there are 26 chapter stops. There are spoiler warnings in the featurettes. The menus complement the feel of the movie. The artwork is funky. They even threw in Easter eggs. Blue Underground is a company that truly comprehends the DVD format.
As far as the movie goes, Revolver is easy to make fun of. The sets are basic, giving it a Reservoir Dogs vibe. (Or does Reservoir Dogs give off a Revolver vibe?). As Fabio Testi points out, the dramatic scenes border on melodrama. The lip synch is off, giving Revolver that kung-fu feeling. And the movie is riddled with clichés so clichéd that you have to wonder if they are tongue in cheek.
In spite of the camp, Revolver manages to draw you in. Most of the draw is due to the charisma of the two leads; charisma that was carefully cultivated by director Sergio Sollima. The opening sequence is reminiscient of Mr. White fleeing the crime scene with a gunshot Mr. Orange in the back seat. Fabio Testi managed to convince me that he was heartsick at the loss of his friend. But his friend utters some lines that are so ridiculous I was laughing out loud. "I can't make it...you go on!" are the first lines in the film. And did you know that "once they get you in the belly, no one can help?" Easy to make fun of. But when the credits begin with Milo clutching his poor friend, my heart was heavy.
Revolver is full of moments like this. Brutal, then mellow. Tension follows camaraderie, with an undercurrent of urgency. Vito beats people down both verbally and physically, but is tender inside. Milo is an incorrigible criminal, yet charming and naïve. As stated in the interviews, no one is completely good or bad, they are just people. For some reason, the ambivalence works. Yet I find myself laughing at the fur coats, hippie glam, and stone-faced melodrama. Did I mention that Revolver is easy to make fun of?
The heart of the movie is the tension between the cop Vito and the crook Milo. Despite the nature of their partnership, the two find respect for each other, and change as men. Vito relies on Milo's considerable underworld experience, while Milo sees a chance to redeem his wasted life in Vito's cause. Their relationship is the lifeblood that raises this film above its peers.
The plot is intricate and somewhat chilling. It was hard to keep track; there are plenty of twists that probably boggled the minds of 1973 audiences. I'm still unsure what I think of the ending...a welcome change from the pat, neatly wrapped endings that Hollywood favors these days.
The real star in Revolver is Ennio Morricone's score. At several
points, I literally stopped paying attention to the action onscreen because I
was so intrigued and moved by the music. Every scene is enhanced by this music,
and several scenes are made by it. When Sergio needed tension, he went to the
well named Ennio. The sheer originality and emotional range of the score is
refreshing. Compare this score to the one-note "sweeping epic" score
of The Two Towers for a study in contrast.
If the score is the star, the cinematography is the best supporting actor. Each shot is carefully framed and executed. Vito and his wife are introduced by an extended low angle shot of the hallway, with feet and clothes writhing on the floor. Scenes that would otherwise lack impact are given life through deliberate pans, classic exterior shots, selective color schemes, and telling perspective shots. I mentioned the credits scene with Milo clutching his dead, if uncreative, friend; the sweeping arc of the camera spirals away from the pair, taking in the incongruously pretty and bright riverscape, only to circle back to Milo burying the poor sod.
The transfer quality is as good as I can imagine. The dark scenes lack detail and have a greenish cast, and the colors seem washed out. But for a 30 year old film, the grain and artifacts are remarkably non-intrusive. There is no edge enhancement that I can detect, yet the image is quite crisp.
All of this craftsmanship leaves me in a bit of a quandary. The acting from the leads is engaging. The score, direction, camerawork, and DVD extras are top notch. Obviously there is quality here. But the movie was so over the top that I just shook my head. The dialogue is laughable, and out of synch at that. The underworld informant weighs 300 pounds, wears a yellow bathrobe, and has bad teeth, yet he's getting ménage a trois action from two fine ladies. When people get shot, they look like they've thrown their backs out. Some of the fights seem like Dynasty slap-fests. And the whole plot is a reach. Come on, they kidnapped his wife? Have we seen that before?
I gave the audio an 80 because it is in mono, and not totally distinct. Also, bad lip-synching falls under the audio category in my book. But the score is truly wonderful. Morricone has scored over 400 films for good reason. And though the IMDb says otherwise, I'm convinced that he and Bruno Nicholai are the same person. Blame the rampant practice of using stupid aliases for such paranoia.
The acting by Fabio and Oliver is good, but everyone else is suspect. Agostina Belli as Vito's lovely wife actually reacts to some lines before they are given, which is a hoot once you catch onto it. The aforementioned informant is so non-threatening that I can't see him as a criminal. The bad guys look the part, but should stick to monosyllabic grunts.
I may be cynical, but sometimes I look at my DVD collection and see 50 copies of the same movie. Explosions, love interest, conservative "twist" ending, cut! Revolver may be just as derivative of 1970s flicks as the explosion fests of the 21st century are today, but for some reason it was refreshing to watch. I can't see anyone lavishing "rabid fanboy" praise on it, but Revolver was enjoyable, moving at times, and had two great performances. If you thirst for a change of pace, but want to retain the comfortable action standbys of guns and violence, Revolver may be right up your alley. The fantastic extras don't hurt either.
Revolver, you have been charged with the crime of melodrama. But his honor has seen potboilers with less heart and message. Your misdemeanors are minor, and your contributions to the genre cannot be overlooked. You are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Revolver: Calling the Shots: Interviews with Sergio Sollima and Fabio Testi
* International Theatrical Trailer
* U.S. Theatrical Trailer
* Radio Spots
* Poster and Still Gallery
* Talent Bios
* Two (or more?) Easter Eggs