Sony // 1991 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Rogers (Retired) // January 20th, 2000
"No one has ever penetrated a terrorist's cell."
Year of the Gun is a rather surprising film to turn up in the 'little noticed' category. At least, one would think so when looking at the front sheet of it. Directed by John Frankenheimer (Ronin, Black Sunday, French Connection II), starring Sharon Stone (Gloria, Casino, Basic Instinct) about a year before her name broke into mainstream recognition, and Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie's, Less Than Zero, Pretty In Pink) just as his name was sliding out of the same. Regardless, Year of the Gun came and went in 1991 without much fanfare, and has now landed on DVD as a release from Columbia/TriStar.
Not many American films are set in foreign countries, for reasons only Hollywood, psychologists and marketing directors only know. Frankenheimer has made something of a career in the US film industry, of setting his films in Europe. He always manages to give his projects a distinctive look, to make locales unfamiliar to the screen we're normally presented with from Hollywood look interesting.
As always, here's the thumbnail synopsis. Year of the Gun is set in Italy in 1970, mostly in Rome, and is presented as a country and city torn with terrorism. The Red Brigade is the terrorist cell, and mostly serves as the 'bad guy' of the film. Never are their reasons for revolting explained, they just rampage through Rome shooting and bombing, while McCarthy and Stone, both playing journalists who end up together in Rome, wind their way through the intrigues of the plot.
The video transfer is solid enough, without any major problems. Edges are solid, colors are strong, never does the picture break down or show signs of activating. It is, however, a full frame transfer, which costs it a considerable number of points.
Audio is limited to Dolby Pro-Logic, but since the film is almost entirely a drama with a few, ahem, dramatic scenes of terrorist violence, this isn't quite as much of a shortcoming as it could otherwise be.
Unfortunately, there isn't much to particularly love about this disc. The video transfer is pretty good, but it is, as mentioned above, also full frame. To include only pan-and-scan on a DVD is a serious shortcoming. The corresponding lack of a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is another. Still more bad news, the case is incorrectly labeled, the production notes promised are not on the disc. The subtitles also have some problems; there are subtitle options for English and Spanish, but they're not accurate to the word. Further, anytime the dialogue lapses into Italian (which happens not too infrequently), the subtitles are absent. The audience is literally left wondering what the characters are discussing as they fire rapid streams of words at each other while waving and frowning.
None of these problems really add up to major faults, but they do leave the disc firmly in the category of "rushed and neglected," which is honestly not the way to make a consumer feel good about a purchase.
Year of the Gun is, overall, a genre film for fans of dramatic intrigue, with a taste for a noticeable lack of Hollywood glitz and glam. The performances of Stone and McCarthy are both enjoyable, and Frankenheimer's unique style is clearly evident throughout. The disc, however, just isn't up to spec. Fans of the director will make the purchase, and most everyone else will pass it up without another thought.
Columbia/TriStar is to be rapped on the wrist with as much effort and energy as they put into this catalog transfer. This will, however, leave them wondering if a fly just landed on their arm or something.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailers