Palm Pictures // 1998 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // August 25th, 2000
We Run Tings; Tings No Run We.
Rastafarians and other lovers of reggae will absolutely love this indie action pic done with a Jamaican cast and crew, resulting in the highest grossing picture in Jamaican history. What the film lacks in budget it gains back in authenticity; what it lacks in polish it gains in style. Palm Pictures, a new indie outfit, presents this police action thriller with a hot reggae soundtrack and an interesting storyline, on a DVD that shows what some people with a little money and some digital cameras can achieve.
Capone (Paul Campbell) is a Jamaican cop who refuses to play by the rules. After a particularly bloody shootout he is transferred back to his hometown of Kingston where he quickly stumbles on to a large-scale gun running ring. Unfortunately some of those involved are the same youths Capone grew up with, particularly one of his closest friends Ratty (Mark Danvers). Capone must try to stop the flow of guns and the local kingpin behind them, while trying to save his friend from himself.
Authenticity is the first word that comes to mind when I try to describe this picture. The characters and especially the locations are as ethnic Jamaican as you can get, with most of the film being shot in the Kingston ghetto it is set in. Houses are tiny shacks with varying degrees of opulence in the indoor decorations, all surrounded by corrugated tin fences and narrow streets. Garish colors of the houses and clothing give way to the naturalistic beauty of the island itself. As for the characters, they are so obviously Jamaican that no one could fail to realize where they come from. The dialogue is peppered with the argot and dialect of the Kingston streets, and even with the English soundtrack you simply have to use the subtitles if you are to understand everything they are saying. There are still a couple slang phrases I had to guess the meaning of.
The story, while certainly not groundbreaking, has a few nice twists and relationships. I developed a real feeling for the relationship between Ratty and Capone in particular, as the cop wants to save his friend while still upholding the law, and Ratty maintains his respect for his old friend even as he tries to get away with his crimes. The character conflicts, and the Jamaican attitudes toward crime (offhand acceptance of ganja, or marijuana, while using a militaristic approach against violent crime) take this a rung past the usual action shoot-em-up.
Shot using digital cameras, the resultant picture looks more like a documentary or souped-up home movie than a theatrical film, but it gives it an honest, graphic look that I quickly became accustomed to. The editing and cinematography also belied the humble home movie look of the film, making it something to take seriously rather than a "back-yard" production.
That graphic look transfers pretty well to DVD. My biggest complaint is that it is a full frame rather than a widescreen production, but I get the impression that the cameras being used were incapable of providing an anamorphic picture. That left you the choice between letterboxed and open-matte full frame, and I can't fault them for going with the open matte, which adds information to the top and bottom rather than sacrificing anything from the sides. Colors are vivid and clear, and the detail level is sharp. There is little grain and no film defects to worry about, and very little in the way of pixel breakup or other artifacts.
If you are looking for a well polished, professional looking film then this might leave you feeling disappointed. Shot in only 20 days, with a very limited and tight budget, there are parts of the film that look a bit crude and rushed. The acting varies from good to poor, though the dialect often makes it hard to tell just how well the part is being played, at least to this US based reviewer. The film was made to mainly play to the Jamaican community both at home and abroad and I'm sure they will enjoy it even more than I did.
The disc is a bit disappointing in a couple areas. Though there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it works mainly to give a nice bounce to the musical score and keep the dialogue clearly heard, if not so clearly understood. The many gunshots in the film are about as underwhelming as I've ever heard even in low budget indie efforts, sounding like little quiet pops instead of loud bangs. The extras package is a bit lacking as well. The main extra is a 10-minute featurette going into some detail about the making of the film. A soundtrack entry that gives snippets of songs from the score is the next biggest extra, along with a series of weblinks. Trailers for Thicker than Water, Dancehall Queen, and Mandela, along with a trailer for Third World Cop complete the extras. Most disappointing in the special features was the lack of a commentary track or longer documentary to really get into the nuts and bolts of how this film was made, which I "tink" would have been a real boon for aspiring filmmakers.
One other complaint is that the English subtitles are not constantly applied, but mainly when the makers seem to think you won't be able to understand the dialect. It would have been better to have a subtitle for each line in the film.
This is one foreign film that you don't have to be an arthouse film lover to enjoy. Still it's a bit raw and unpolished, and some might find it more suitable as a rental than a purchase. Rastafarians and reggae lovers will probably want to snatch this right up, however.
The makers of Third World Cop are absolutely acquitted, as is Palm Pictures in the first disc I've had the experience of viewing. Court is adjourned, mon.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind the Scenes Featurette
* Soundtrack Sampler
* Official Site