Judge Clark Douglas doesn't like Trouble. He prefers Monopoly.
A story located somewhere between the future and the past of film noir.
"Everybody wants to go to heaven; nobody wants to die."
Facts of the Case
John Hawkins, aka "Hawk" (Kris Kristofferson, Limbo) has just been released from prison. Hawk used to be the Rain City Police Department's sharpest investigator, but there's no chance of getting his badge back. It would be easy for Hawk to take a job working for a gangster like Hilly Blue (Divine, Pink Flamingos), but he'd prefer to walk the straight and narrow if he has the option.
Coop (Keith Carradine, Nashville) and his wife Georgia (Lori Singer, Footloose) have just moved to Rain City from the countryside. Coop finds getting a legitimate job too difficult, so he teams up with a local thug named Solo (Joe Morton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and earns a living in a variety of less-than-legal ways. Unfortunately, this new line of work causes a nasty shift in Coop's behavior, forcing Georgia to contemplate leaving him.
As our tale proceeds, these characters are forced to make a variety of difficult choices. They all want some measure of peace, but do any of them have hope of finding it?
Rain City is a very particular place that exists in no particular time. There are elements that suggest it's somewhere in the future, along with elements suggesting we're in a peculiar version of the past. The most surprising thing is that neither side of the spectrum is particularly overdone, as director Alan Rudolph dispenses with obvious "the past meets the future" clashes (think Xanadu) in favor of making subtler suggestions in both directions. Ironically, it's only Rudolph's insertions of the then-present that come across as a bit too forceful. I suppose it's not his fault that the film was made in 1985; a year in which eyesore-inducing excess was in vogue. I'm sure that Keith Carradine's out-of-control pompadour seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.
Yes, the film feels rather dated at times, but Trouble in Mind is thoughtful and skillful enough to remain a compelling viewing experience. Rudolph is an intelligent filmmaker and he turns what could have been a standard-issue gimmicky crime thriller into something philosophical and memorable. Yes, what's on the surface is almost entirely familiar—the basic plot plays like a less-than-inspired variation on Casablanca, all the way down to the use of a café as the central gathering point for our heroes and villains. For that matter, the film's conclusion lacks the courage of Casablanca, taking a more conventional route that might be more satisfying in the moment but which is less interesting in reflection. Still, there's some substance lurking around underneath the central story.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to appreciate a film that only works well on a secondary level, but consider what Rudolph does in Trouble in Mind. Note the quietly elegant manner in which the film presents every character and nearly every element of the film as some sort of contradiction—the devoted mother who abandons her child, the heroic cop who served time for murder, things which are out-of-date existing alongside things that haven't been invented yet—heck, the film even throws in Divine and has her play a gruff male gangster. The film's careful design goes a long way towards improving its value, as do numerous little delights in the dialogue: one character quotes Cervantes, causing another to bark, "Who's that? Is he coming with us tonight?"
Most of the actors involved have a rather distinctive presence, and Rudolph seems to know how to use each player well. Kristofferson is excellent as the quiet, rugged ex-cop; playing a variation on the classic noir antihero that's simultaneously gentler and darker than usual (Hawk smiles and laughs a lot more than most of those characters, but his romantic encounters with women come awfully close to rape at times). Keith Carradine's unflappable demeanor is contrasted with increasingly absurd hair and makeup as the film progresses, visually marking the character's growing lunacy. Genevieve Bujold is sturdily effective as the owner of the aforementioned café, while Divine seems to be having a grand time in a rather odd role. Only Lori Singer fails to make much of an impression; her performance is too passive and generic.
Though this DVD release is billed as a "25th Anniversary Special Edition," this is actually the first time the film is being made available on Region 1 DVD. The transfer is a mixed bag, as the level of grain seems to fluctuate dramatically throughout and there are some occasional scratches and flecks present. Some scenes look very soft, too. Even so, the transfer does have its exceptional moments. The audio is okay, with an emphasis being placed on Mark Isham's jazz-based score. Dialogue can be a little soft at times, but most of it's perfectly audible. A nice new documentary entitled "Halves of Dreams: The Making of Trouble in Mind" (50 minutes) has been produced for this release, offering interviews with all of the surviving principle cast and crew members. You also get another great piece entitled "Mark Isham and Alan Rudolph in Conversation" (37 minutes), which allows the two men to explore their numerous collaborations. Honestly, I enjoyed watching these excellent new supplements more than the film itself.
A interesting neo-noir gets a solid DVD release and some very engaging new extras. It's not one of Rudolph's best films, but it's worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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