Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on September 7th, 2003
The setting is an unnamed country in Latin America. The time is the recent past. Amysterious terrorist organization, led by someone called “Presidente Ezequiel,” launches a seriesof baffling and increasingly deadly attacks. The government responds with more and moredraconian measures. Caught between the terrorists and a corrupt regime is honest cop JavierBardem, desperate to salvage what democracy his country still has. As he tracks Ezequiel, hisinvestigation…increasingly hampered by the army, Bardem also falls in love with his daughter’sballet teacher (Laura Morante). A very smart thriller, with an atmosphere of quiet menacepunctuated by shocking acts of violence on the part of both terrorists and government. ThoughNicholas Shakespeare’s script (based on his novel) is partly inspired by the Peruvian ShiningPath organization, the story becomes more of a fable by not being set in any particular country.The result is a chillingly topical and relevant film.
The sound is as low-key and restrained as everything else in the film. There is thus not muchby way of environmental effects (even when it comes to music), but this is less a fault of the disc,and more a function of how very quiet the movie is. There are some nice effects however,notably the wind in the opening scenes. Left-right separation is very limited. The dialogue isdistortion-free. However, you may want to have the subtitles going: English is a second languagefor just about everyone in the cast, and there are frequent moments where the delivery is hard tounderstand.
A fine, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The colours are generally rather muted, but the reds standout in nice contrast. The opening scenes have some grainy night shots and a bit of dirt on theprint, but the rest of the film is in excellent shape. there are no edge enhancement halos, and theblacks, after the shaky opening, become quite strong.
When you trigger the commentary, you might wonder if in fact you have done so. Just waita bit: Malkovich and Bardem finally start speaking 4 minutes into the film. They have a lot ofbehind-the-scenes anecdotes to share, which is interesting enough, but I would have liked a bitmore background on the story itself (though what is provided is quite illuminating). The“Journeys with John Malkovich” featurette is an interview done for the Sundance Channel, andMalkovich comes across as quiet and quirky, much like his movie. “Revealing The DancerUpstairs” is the usual promo featurette, though I’ve seen worse. The included trailers are forThe Dancer Upstairs and In America. The menu is quite elaborate, with a longintro, animated and scored main page and transitions, and scored secondary pages.
After seeing this, I can only hope Malkovich doesn’t let too much time go by before steppingbehind the cameras again. This would make an excellent companion viewing with The QuietAmerican.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Sundance Channel Featurette
- Making-of Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers