Artisan // 1998 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // June 20th, 1999
You boys didn't think this through very well, did you?
A low-profile, character-driven movie, at turns darkly humorous and intensely dramatic, is given a pretty spiffy treatment by Artisan.
This is one of those movies that you may have missed during its theatrical release, as I did. However, when I saw this one sitting on the DVD rental shelf at my local Hollywood Video, I figured any movie with Denis Leary and Christopher Walken was worth a rental, particularly with a nice set of extras.
Suicide Kings centers around Avery (Henry Thomas) and his four college buddies who get into a spiraling mess when they concoct a plan to rescue Avery's kidnapped sister. As told in flashback scenes, they agree to jointly kidnap a retired John Gotti-like figure, Charlie Bartolucci (Christopher Walken) and force him to use his connections to rescue Avery's sister. After a hair-raising kidnap scene, the plan seems to be going well, but once Charlie comes to and sizes up his predicament, the tables begin to turn.
Charlie plays along with the plan, but subtly begins to exploit the differences among his kidnappers, with probing questions and cool insight. Before long, it seems as if Charlie is in charge, despite his predicament, and you begin to see the kidnappers plan collapse bit by bit. While Charlie is fighting his own battles, his trusted lieutenant Lono (Denis Leary) is out and about, ferreting out both the kidnappers of Avery's sister and Charlie's captors. Denis Leary adds his familiar comic persona to his role, with hilarious riffs on subjects, including footwear. (In the commentary, we learn that Leary mostly added this because he hated the boots that he was forced to wear.)
While the movie seems to drag in the middle, it picks up speed at the end, as we find out what really has been going on and see how the ultimate tragedy of the movie unfolds.
The acting is well done overall, but particularly by Christopher Walken. It is a testament to Christopher Walken's talent as an actor that he gives such a compelling (and often humorous) performance while spending most of the movie duct-taped into a chair. I also have to point out Johnny Galecki's performance as the nerdy Ira, in whose house most of the movie is set. As mentioned in the commentary, Ira is essentially the audience's character, who reacts to the insanity around him with genuine fear, anger, and ironic humor in a most excellent fashion.
The video transfer is generally good, but perhaps due to the fact that this is not a huge budget blockbuster, there are some deficiencies. A number of scenes, usually very dark outdoor or indoor shots, suffer from excessive digital noise. Also, the movie generally seems to be softly focused from beginning to end. However, given that most of the movie is darkly lit, I am pleased with the quality of the transfer. I am also happy to see that Artisan (unlike more well-heeled studios, eh DISNEY?) chose to bless us with an anamorphic transfer, and I say that as a 4:3 RPTV owner!
As a character centered, dialogue driven sort of movie, there is only so much one can expect from the audio. Your subwoofer will probably enjoy the rest. Dialogue (as it would have to be!) is crisp and clean and the music well-chosen to give the scenes added flavor.
The extras are plentiful as well. The menus are a real treat, with movie footage and music. The production notes seem to be longer and more extensive than for most movies. The commentary track, with director Peter O'Fallon and co-producer/co-writer Wayne Rice is capably done, imparting a wealth of information about the whole cinematic process without being boring or stuffy.
A nice twist of this disc is the addition of short filmed comments by the director for some of the extras. In the "Alternative Endings" portion, he explains the story behind the different endings (three in all, including the theatrical ending) and why he chose as he did. For the "Theatrical Trailers" selection, he explains how the marketing decisions affected the making of the different trailers and the poster campaign. The included TV spot is fantastic, with a fast-paced video montage set to a driving musical beat. (I wish all movie ads were this good.) You also get a neat split-screen storyboard vs. film comparison for Charlie's kidnap scene, and a "Tutorial" for the same scene that illustrates how the separate music, dialogue and effects tracks are mixed together for the final product. Artisan also scores points for a short scene that shows off your multi-angle feature, so that you can see the scene as filmed or as you would see it from behind the cameras and lighting. The preferred Amaray keep case rounds out the presentation.
While not a reflection on Suicide Kings, I couldn't help but thinking that I wished that Reservoir Dogs would get a similar premiere treatment. Ironically, Reservoir Dogs makes its appearance late in the movie as background video and audio, not because of any Tarantino homage, but because it was also released by the same studio.
Also, shame on Artisan for including the same bare-bones insert card that I expect from Disney and Paramount. Shame, I say!
A relatively unknown but solid piece of cinema, it gets a quality DVD presentation.
Acquitted with the apologies of the court, but Artisan is sentenced to do a similar special edition of Reservoir Dogs in compensation for its minor sins here.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track
* Alternate Endings
* Theatrical Trailer
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Information