In LA, the law is still for sale.
Adapted from the James Ellroy novel, this classic film noir is surprisingly taut and low-key, with great casting and a new look. This classic private-eye film still has freshness with its flawed and unusual hero, but still everything you would expect in classic noir tradition. Finally, Sterling gets to produce a DVD of a movie worthy of their skills.
When Jason Freeland was still in film school, he read the novels of James Ellroy and decided back then he wanted to make a film from his work. This was before the huge success of L.A. Confidential which turned Ellroy's work into expensive properties, luckily for the young would-be director, who paid decidedly under current market value for the rights to his first novel "Brown's Requiem." Freeland then spent years both in adapting the script and acquiring the artists and financing. He knew this was really a one man story; the odyssey of Fritz Brown, the ex-cop, repo man and part-time private eye and his battle against both sordid foes and himself. When he finally decided on Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Cliffhanger, The Dark Half), he had the anchor for his film. Usually cast in roles of villains or heavies, Rooker's gravelly voice and rugged yet unconventional good looks bring an honesty and strength to the film. His chiseled, open face has a streetwise, seen-it-all look and he has a masculine quality (and the aikido experience) that makes it believable when it comes time for Brown to get tough. Still he shows the sensitivity to show the weakness, vulnerabilities, and flaws of the character.
I did say this was a one man show, and in many ways it is, but there are other people who bring a lot to the cast, albeit in small roles. The supporting cast is filled with great character actors. Each plays their part and largely goes home with only a couple exceptions. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Television's "Zoe") again plays well under her age as Jane Baker, who is being "taken care of" by a man old enough to be her grandfather, played by Harold Gould (The Sting, Patch Adams, Stuart Little). Jane, who is only 17, is too young to be with this man, according to her brother Freddy "Fat Dog" Baker (William Sasso) who hires Brown to keep an eye on her. Brown is understandably reluctant, as Fat Dog is dirty, smelly, and looks like he sleeps outdoors, which he does. His reluctance evaporates when he sees the huge bankroll this overly eccentric golf caddy pulls from his pocket, and takes what he thinks will be a simple surveillance job. In true noir storytelling however, the case becomes more than it appears when, early on, he discovers that the rich sugar daddy is in an underworld partnership with the head of LAPD internal affairs (the late Brion James-Blade Runner, Cherry 2000, Flesh And Blood), a ruthless, corrupt cop who was the very man who kicked Brown off the force. Brown savors the chance for revenge.
Solid storytelling moves the plot through the seamy underbelly of the LA area as he encounters shady characters, some innocents ones, and faces personal danger; all the while battling his own demons that threaten to turn him back into a drunken sot at any moment. The bottle and the threat of taking that drink has been with Brown for a long time, and is the reason Lt. Cathcart (James) cost him his job as a cop. This deep flaw within the hero is what separates the story from pure genre; usually the hard drinking detective never has to worry about his drinking. Still this is classic noir, with only a few changes, and the story builds under its own steam in its own time, with some dark but interesting twists in the story, until the inevitable climax.
For a first time director, Freeland really gives a restrained and mature resonance to the film. He worked closely with Michael Rooker throughout to get the right feel for the dialogue and to continually adapt the screenplay to make the story real yet keep the feel and spirit of the novel. The overall feel is dark, like the novel, but does have its lighter moments, and a genuine feel for the good guys. The bad guys deserve everything they get. The camera work is remarkably restrained and without special tricks so often resorted to by fledgling directors, and the brooding but simple score keeps the mood in check.
During my last review of a DVD by Sterling, the disaster The Wrecking Crew I spoke about how great this little company is and how they could do a great job given material worthy of their skills, and here is one such film. I have a few complaints with the disc but this is still a worthy effort for the low budget movie it is. The transfer is in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 but is unfortunately not anamorphic. Still, the transfer offers a nice film-like look, with only a smattering of motion artifact. Colors are well balanced though muted for what is meant to be a dark film. It wouldn't be noir if it weren't dark much of the time. Still, there are brightly lit daylight scenes which show off more saturated color and natural skin tones. The print was nicely free of nicks or dirt, though their is a hint of grain in some long shots. Overall this looks very nice and I'm satisfied.
The audio is only offered in Dolby Surround, but is more than adequate for the film. Dialogue remains clearly understood, even the voice over narration which is again part and parcel for the genre. Surrounds are usually only used for the musical score but do add ambiance to some scenes. There is decent dynamic range and punch when the film requires it. Nothing to show off your system with here but it's not that kind of film.
The extras are fine as well, though not so overwhelmingly comprehensive as in some Sterling discs. Best is the commentary track with Jason Freeland and Michael Rooker, who was also an associate producer besides being the film's lead. They discuss every aspect of the film, its development, and what they were trying to do and I found it well above average as such tracks go. I found it both interesting and informative. Thorough cast and crew information and the theatrical trailer round out the extras. This is more than adequate but seems skimpy compared to some Sterling discs. I'm not complaining. As usual with Sterling, the menus are great.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film is not without its problems. I found a couple places where developments did not seem adequately explained, like why in the world would Fat Dog, who sleeps outdoors, want to buy racing dog puppies? There are minor questions in the film that don't get answered or get asked and left hanging. Still I think the film worked as it is.
My only real complaints with the disc is the lack of anamorphic enhancement on the transfer and the lack of closed captioning for the hearing impaired. Spanish subtitles are offered but none in English.
With only a few different takes, this is still a classic film noir private eye flick. You like those types of films or you don't. If you do, then give this one a spin. I like noir films, and liked this more than most.
All involved with Brown's Requiem are acquitted and released with my compliments. Sterling remains high in my esteem as a DVD producer and I hope they get more entertaining movies to strut their skills with.
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