Film noir in the sunlight.
Taylor Hackford (The Devil's Advocate, Delores Claiborne, An Officer and a Gentleman) gives us a new look at film noir in a loose adaptation of the 1940s classic noir Out of the Past. A dense plot rife with twists and shades of gray gives a good accounting, with fine actors but a sometimes jarring musical score.
Sometimes with age comes wisdom. Sometimes you just get fatter, more set in your ways, and prone to telling others "there I wuz" stories, but I digress. I'd like to think I'm a wiser man than I was in 1984, when Against All Odds was released. When I saw the theatrical release, I was a little bored. I didn't really get it. So when this DVD appeared at my door I was skeptical. But I'm happy to report that this time I did get it, and was able to appreciate the film. I suppose it's not coincidence that sometime in the intervening 15 years I also learned to enjoy and understand different types of film, including film noir. An important lesson in watching films from the noir genre is not to go get refreshments during the film, as you will certainly miss a plot element. Did I say plot? Well, here I'll try to give an overview.
Terry Brogan is a star football player who is a bit past his prime and has just injured his shoulder again. His team shows it's gratitude for long service and great play by cutting him. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Starman, The Last Picture Show) lost 30 pounds for the role and makes a convincing athlete, along with his typically sharp acting. Having spent his money like water, he needs a job until he can try out for another team the next year. He meets up with his old friend Jack Wise (James Woods, John Carpenters Vampires, The General's Daughter, True Crime), who is an ex-athlete and now a nightclub owner and big-league L.A. bookie, and after a really great racing scene on Sunset Boulevard they meet at the club where Jack offers him a job; to find his girlfriend who has stabbed him and robbed him of $50,000. He just wants her back, after all what is a stabbing and robbery but a lover's spat? Apparently Jack has something on Terry, and hints at using it as leverage to convince him to take the job.
Brogan instead goes to visit his team owner, played by Jane Greer (TV's Twin Peaks, The Prisoner of Zenda, Out of the Past), a woman more interested by real estate than football, hoping to get his job back. She isn't willing to put him back on the team, but has a job for him; it turns out the girl Jack is looking for is her own daughter, and she wants to hire Brogan to find her as well, but to keep her out of Jack's arms. So Terry finally decides to go find her, while seemingly playing both against the middle.
The search, using a clue from Mrs. Wyler, the team owner, takes Terry to Mexico. Here we see some of the best scenery and locations used in any film, including the Mayan ruins at Chichin Izta and the island of Cozumel. He finds her, but doesn't tell anyone he has, and ends up falling for her himself. Rachel Ward (The Thorn Birds, Night School) plays the stunning but spoiled and scheming Jessie Wyler, who also falls for our hero the football player. Several steamy scenes ensue along with the obligatory montage to show the couple falling for each other. But Jack is an ever-present problem, and ultimately his reach, and the people he controls becomes more apparent. First Jessie, then Terry return to LA. The rest of Against All Odds is more traditionally film noir, set in mostly dark streets and buildings in the city. The traditional elements of the love triangle, betrayal, and ulterior motives all come out. One or more of the principle actors will die before we're done, and a happy ending is not guaranteed.
James Woods is stellar as the low-life Jack Wise, and Richard Widmark (True Colors, Twilight's Last Gleaming, Out of the Past) is very convincing as the power baron Ben Caxton. The character actors are uniformly good. This dense plot weaves people in and out, and you almost never feel jarred out of your suspension of disbelief. You find there are shades of gray rather than black and white throughout the characters. No jarring holes in the plot nag at you after the film. The songs from the soundtrack are well done to back up the scenes. One of them, "Take a Look at Me Now" by Phil Collins, was a #1 hit and got an Oscar nomination.
Now, how about the disc? This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is well done; colors including flesh tones are good, though a bit drab at times. I think that the times where the color is washed out somewhat was intentional for the atmosphere of the film so it's not a fault of the disc. Although sometimes shadow detail is too murky, making it hard to see in some dark scenes, and there is a fair amount of grain in certain scenes as well, though the film looks fairly clean with regard to dirt and nicks. There is both an English 4.0 and 2.0 surround track for audio, though only the 2.0 is advertised on the case. I found the 4.0 much better to listen to, though neither will give your effects channels a workout, it's not that type of film. So, shall I tell you about the extras?
As I'm starting to expect from a Columbia Special Edition, there are a lot of extras here. There are not one but two commentary tracks, one from the director Taylor Hackford and the screenwriter, and the other with the director and Jeff Bridges and James Woods. While the track with the screenwriter had some useful information, I found a bit too much information about musical scores that you couldn't hear to relate to over the sound of the commentary. I don't have a good enough memory to place each musical piece where it went in the film. The other commentary with the actors was much more enjoyable, and I found James Woods especially entertaining. The next best extra was a group of deleted scenes, that you could watch with or without the director's commentary. A couple of those scenes I felt would have been a big help to understanding the relationships between the characters, and made a couple other scenes easier to understand. These deleted scenes were shown in full frame without any enhancement, and if the rest of the film stock looked that bad then they did a great job restoring it. It's still very watchable though. We also get the Columbia Talent Files, giving filmographies and minimal bios.
To round out the special edition are two music videos, one from Kid Creole and The Coconuts, a performance shot during the film, and Phil Collins' title track "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," and theatrical trailers for the film and three other Jeff Bridges movies: The Last Picture Show, Starman, and Arlington Road.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One actor I didn't mention much about was Rachel Ward. She was a hot commodity coming right off the popular mini-series The Thorn Birds and certainly had the looks for the part. However, I found her performance lacking in comparison to the fine actors surrounding her. She did a decent enough job, but sometimes I found her emotions not true enough. My only other problem with the film was in the choice of music in some places. The songs were well done, but some of the music was a bit too jarring for my taste, and took away from rather than added to the scene. Other places the music was just perfect, particularly where a lone guitar playing Latin styles was used.
Film noir done in bright sunlight in beautiful locales worked for me, and the plot was a tightly woven, dense fabric to wrap yourself in. I recommend that you watch this film twice; once just to sit and watch and the next to really see the story develop. Hard-core film noir fans may be disappointed, but most won't be. It's worth at least a rental, and probably worth your money for purchase.
The film and disc are acquitted of all charges, and Columbia is encouraged by this court to continue releasing Special Editions with anamorphic transfers.
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