by Bill Hawk


Miramax, 2003, Color, 154 mins.- Miramax DVD

Nicole Kidman: "This war is lost on the battlefield and it's being lost twice over by those who stayed behind."

Yeah, things are tough all over the Southern states as the Civil War staggers to a conclusion. For Kidman, a belle with no useful skills trying to survive on a farm, things are made more bearable by the hope that her beau Jude Law will return to her. Although the two didn't have much time to connect before he marched off to fight the Yankees, they share a sort of psychic bond that drives Law to go AWOL and head back her way. His quasi-Homeric odyssey involves him with a number of colorful characters, including a lustful priest, several lustful women, a young widow, and soldiers from both sides who tend to shoot first and ask questions later. Kidman has her own troubles with trigger-happy men, but she gains an ally in the earthy, ornery Renee Zellweger, who gets things straightened-out on the farm. Amidst the chaos and suffering, there are little victories and glimmers of hope for the future, but one thing's for sure- in a world this messed-up, you can't count on a happy ending.

Unlike some of the classic Civil War pictures, this adaptation of Charles Frazier's best-selling novel does not shirk from showing the ugly side of things in graphic detail. This unpleasantness is sometimes at odds with the "Arty" nature of the film, and it exacerbates the story's episodic structure. On the other hand, writer/director Anthony "English Patient" Minghella certainly knows how to show the people and places to their best effect. Performance-wise, Law is convincing, although he often has to fall back on looking soulfully at the unjust world around him. Zellweger's Oscar-winning part calls for her to project a caricature- a sort of protective shell that her character has formed after years of misfortune- and she lays it on a bit thick. Her developing friendship with Kidman, who pales somewhat by comparison, is one of the most positive aspects of the story. The picture is not without its virtues, and fans of period melodrama and/or the parties involved will find this interesting, but overall it isn't as good as it wants to be. Extras on the two-disc set include audio commentary, a documentary and deleted scenes.

United Artists, 1949, B&W, 87 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

John Dall: "We go together, Laurie. I don't know why- maybe like guns and ammunition go together."

Well, those two items are safe enough- until somebody pulls the trigger. And unfortunately for Dall, his sharpshootin' sweetie, Peggy Cummins, isn't as particular as he is when it comes to targets. After a youthful obsession with firearms fuelled by a self-esteem problem lands Dall's character in reform school, he does a stint in the Army before returning to his hometown for what he expects will be a nice, quiet life. But that plan goes right down the drain when he catches Cummins' carnival act, and the two of them have a little marksmanship competition that really lights their respective fuses. It's not long before they wind up hitched, but Cummins' desire for better things in life leads her towards some illegal moneymaking activities- and unfortunately for Dall, his desire for her leads him to go along with it. Before long, these two crazy kids have embarked on a crime spree that makes them infamous across the nation. They pin their chance for happiness on one final robbery- but you know the old saying, crime doesn't pay……
This fun little picture became a cult item for its B-movie bravado, which mixes style and substance in a way that's genuinely subversive. It's confluence of sex and guns, and its portrayal of two young lovers finding cheap thrills in crime, was pretty scandalous back in the day. Not that the filmmakers don't try to tarnish the allure of naughtiness, as Dall has more than his share of reservations- but in classic film noir fashion, he can't resist his more violent "Better half." Director Joseph H. Lewis keeps things moving along with some inventive camerawork and some interesting and- here's that word again- subversive tonal shifts. Noir and old crime movie fans will get a kick out of this, and it has a certain camp appeal as well- just look at the poster art, they don't make 'em like that anymore! The only extra of note is an audio commentary.

Paramount, 1972, Color, 155 mins.- Paramount DVD

Al Pacino: "It's not personal, Tom- this is strictly business."

Sure, if your business involves smuggling, gambling, prostitution, and rubbing out anybody who ticks you off. Such was Mafia life in the Big Apple just after World War II. Marine hero Pacino, who had shunned the "Family business," finds himself drawn into it after a crisis involving patriarch Marlon Brando, the titular big cheese. Times are changing, new vices are on their way in, and the old style of doing things may soon be history. But the strength of Brando's clan lies in that old style, which values loyalty and honor (of a sort), and they will weather the storm……even if it means unleashing their own storm of hot lead.

This Oscar-winning blockbuster, adapted by Mario Puzo from his novel, was a tide that lifted up the careers of everybody who had a hand in it, and it is a good example of how a relatively classy piece of entertainment can be produced from pulpy source material. Not that virtuoso director Francis Ford Coppola shies away from the sensationalistic elements, as he serves up the generous doses of violence that you expect to get in a Mafia movie. But the heart of the story is in its characters, and in the tragic arc of Pacino, who could have been something better than a Mob boss but is fated to take over from his father. Pacino is arresting in the role, particularly when he's interacting with stoic family lawyer Robert Duvall and hotheaded brother James Caan. Brando, who has surprisingly little screen time, skates along the edge of parody in his role, mumbling through stuffed cheeks in a hoarse whisper- but he imbues the Godfather with a sort of faded menace that is fascinating to watch. The supporting cast is uniformly good, as are the production values, and the film never drags despite its longish running time. A modern classic, which truly makes "An offer you can't refuse" to any film buff. The only extra on this disc is a commentary by director Coppola, but the film is also available as part of a boxed set with additional bonus materials.

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© Melt Magazine 2004 
iv align="center">© Melt Magazine 2004