Judge P.S. Colbert would like to formally thank his Mom and Dad for being no more than normally flawed parents.
"Do you not remember the tug of my lips on your tender young breasts?"—Martin
Tempting as it is to say that Track 29 goes off the rails almost immediately, I suspect something more sinister is afoot. In fact, I believe this determinedly unpleasant, over-the-top exercise never veers from its charted course.
Facts of the Case
Young, beautiful Linda Henry (Theresa Russell, Black Widow) spikes her morning juice with Vodka, in order to get through another day of her loveless, sexless marriage to Dr. Henry Henry, (Christopher Lloyd, Back To The Future) a model train over-enthusiast whose home made railroad runs all through their large, well-furnished suburban North Carolina home. Meanwhile, a young English hitchhiker named Martin (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight) blows into town and blows Linda's mind by informing her that he's the child she was forced to give up at age sixteen. Loquacious and aggressive, Martin informs his "mommy" he now intends to "make up for lost time."
Track 29 makes no secret that Martin exists only as a figment of Linda's tortured imagination; a byproduct of guilt, grief, and misplaced sexual desire for the baby's father, a carny worker (also played by Oldman) who forcibly deflowered her on her fifteenth birthday before disappearing forever. While this would have provided fertile inspiration for one heckuva character study, British screenwriter Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) forfeits this opportunity in favor of studying episodic absurdism.
Perhaps Potter—adapting his BBC teleplay Schmoedipus—wanted to take pot shots at Americana, or perhaps he intended merely on having fun with what he saw as cultural stereotypes of life across the pond, but what emerges is entirely mirthless. Linda, the southern belle, channels Tennessee Williams at his worst, all but twirling a parasol and biting her handkerchief as she wails in misery over her day to day existence. For his part, Martin is alternately infantile and sexually menacing, a combination that gets louder and more annoying as the film progresses. Both actors are better than these one-note caricatures allow them to be, and the extremely limited trajectory of their roles turns these performances into grueling endurance tests.
Linda's husband Henry—obviously set up as a neglectful villain and a buffoon—is slightly more fleshed-out, by virtue of the fact that he's having a fetishistic fling with his nurse (Sandra Bernhard, The King Of Comedy). While Lloyd and Bernhard are best known for their zany comedic characterizations, they fare best here by tempering their portrayals and avoiding the hysterical scene-chewing most certainly encouraged by director Nicholas Roeg (Walkabout).
All the classic elements of a Roeg film are present in Track 29: non-linear narratives, cross-cutting, alienation, mental illness, and psychotic sexual impulses that serve to simultaneously thrill and torture its participants. Possibly the most enigmatic filmmaker alive, Roeg specializes in distancing audiences from his subject matter while fascinating them with his technical prowess. This dichotomy often results in the criticism that while one doesn't necessarily enjoy his films, one can't help but appreciate their brilliance (for a definitive argument, read Judge Rob Lineberger's Criterion review of Bad Timing).
Is Track 29 a brilliant film? Absolutely. Though certainly not a perfect film—nor even one of Roeg's best—the cinematographer-cum-director's extraordinary skill is apparent, not only in its look but its pace, which never lags. Even at its most grating, Track 29 never bored or dissuaded me from wanting to find out what happens next. To be sure, this is not a film for popcorn moviegoers, but cinephiles and aspiring directors will find much to take away.
Image Entertainment offers a no-frills, standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that delivers the goods visually. The 2.0 Dolby Stereo mix passes muster, even with my aged-battered hearing holes, though the promised English SDH subtitles for the Hearing-Impaired were nowhere to be found. There are no bonus features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It may seem strange to complain about a lack of extras on a film one didn't particularly enjoy, but an interview with Nic Roeg or an informative biography of the late Dennis Potter would have made me feel giddy as a schoolgirl on holiday.
Casual film goers are strongly cautioned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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