The Drowning Pool Blu-ray Review
"I got no idea what justice is; I am interested in truth, though."
Movies & TV reviewSRP: £14.99
The Drowning Pool Film Review
One of only two sequels that Paul Newman made, The Drowning Pool is the almost decade-in-the-making follow up to his 1966 mystery detective noir Harper.The only other sequel the legendary Newman would embark on would be to his classic 1961 The Hustler, with Martin Scorsese persuading him to return a quarter of a century later for the 1986 sequel, The Color of Money. It was a worthwhile gamble, with Newman not only outshining then-rising star Tom Cruise but also - after a whopping 9 nominations - finally winning a Best Actor Oscar for his troubles.
The timing wasn't quite right for his other sequel, however, the 1975 thriller The Drowning Pool. Newman had found a surprise hit in the precursor, Harper, almost a decade earlier, adapting the first in a sizeable series of novels about the titular character (renamed from the book) with the help of award-winning screenwriter William Goldman. For the follow-up, Goldman would pitch a version of the 11th novel in the series, The Chill, with none other than Sam Peckinpah interested in directing, but Newman wasn't biting, and by the time he was interested, the production company had collapsed.
Over half a decade later, the rights to the second novel in the series, The Drowning Pool, were picked up, although this time it wouldn't be adapted by Goldman, with Walter Hill brought on board for one of several drafts. Newman's Cool Hand Luke director, Stuart Rosenberg, helmed the piece, and a number of strong female players were drafted in to co-star, including Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward, and a teen Melanie Griffith (similarly playing an oversexed teenager following her notorious scenes in the same year's earlier Night Moves, opposite Gene Hackman), as well as some solid antagonists, including the man who played Dirty Harry's disarmingly psychotic villain, Andy Robinson, and Jaws' own stubborn mayor, Murray Hamilton.
Unfortunately, it was films like Dirty Harry that were the problem. The decade between Harper and The Drowning Pool had revealed a darker side to Hollywood, more prepared to play dirty and get violent, with even the noir genre redefined by some superior additions (the most obvious being 1974's Chinatown, but also Altman's 1973 The Long Goodbye), leaving the sequel floundering somewhat, with a lukewarm reception. In hindsight though, it's a superior follow-up, enjoying the gritty mid-70s filmmaking environment and playing out a darker mystery than its predecessor.
The Drowning Pool hits the ground running, throwing you right into the mix, surrounding you with unpleasant characters and then efficiently closing the walls in
The story repositioned the novel's Southern California setting for Louisiana, seeing the LA private detective flown out to the bayou by an old flame, Iris Devereaux, who is being blackmailed, and unravelling a complex conspiracy involving corrupt cops, a mounting number of dead bodies, and a greedy oil baron who wants the Devereaux land so that he can get to the untapped reserves below it, and who appears prepared to go to great lengths to get it.
Harper was a witty, breezy, 60s affair, which dipped into darker corners, and had its fair share of twists and turns, but only briefly felt claustrophobically tense. It also took its sweet time getting to the meat of the mystery. The Drowning Pool hits the ground running, throwing you right into the mix, surrounding you with unpleasant characters and then efficiently closing the walls in, with several excellent - tense - standoffs and setpieces gifting it a harder, grittier edge than its forebear. Newman is still the same cynical, wise-cracking protagonist, but a few more years on the clock give him a different edge too; it's clearly a role he was comfortable with and that he enjoyed returning to and the result - in hindsight - is actually very intoxicating (the Louisiana setting is seldom anything but intoxicating in film) but the timing just wasn't right to pull off a successful franchise. Still, it makes for a strong and arguably superior companion-piece to Harper.
The Drowning Pool Blu-ray PictureWarner previously released The Drowning Pool (and its predecessor, Harper) in 2018 on US (Region Free) Blu-ray as part of their Archive Collection, which is the primary source of HMV's exclusive Warner collection (yes, HMV still exists), here prettified with a slipcase and art cards, as well as a DVD copy, but still basically an exact port of the same Blu-ray disc. And if you thought Harper looked fabulous, The Drowning Pool is stunning.
An excellent presentation which does justice to this 44 year old feature
Lensed by legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), The Drowning Pool is a staggeringly shadow-cast feature, with some striking shots even in the most seemingly innocuous scenes. Seldom are both of Newman's eyes visible, with angles and frames such that half of his face is almost always bathed in darkness. It's exquisite cinematography, transforming the already strong noir into a surprising visual feast, with Warner's 2K remaster lapping up every iota of promoted detail, revelling in skin textures and clothing weaves, as well as the humid Louisiana backdrop. The colour scheme renders natural skin tones and gorgeous green landscapes, and even the simplest of broader shots appear impressive (the opening drive across the bridge). Black levels are simply perfect - they would have to be to handle Willis' intentions for pervasive shadowing - and round out an excellent presentation which does justice to this 44-year-old feature.
The Drowning Pool Blu-ray SoundThe audio track is also a winner
The accompanying lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is also largely a winner, working within inherent limitations but still mostly prevailing, delivering dialogue with clarity and coherence throughout, and afforded a whole slew of interesting background noises which provide, if not immersion, then at least atmosphere: airplanes soaring down, airboats boom-fanning their way across the swamp, cars run off the road, and shotguns blasting out across the landscape. The final setpiece is particularly overwhelming, with the track doing its best despite the mono restrictions, whilst the score plays far more melancholy than the scoring to Harper, which suits the darker mood swing.
The Drowning Pool Blu-ray ExtrasJust a 10 minute archival Featurette and a Trailer
The Drowning Pool Blu-ray VerdictA strong and arguably superior companion-piece to Harper
As HMV continue to release titles from the Warner Archive Collection in their own exclusive packaging, we continue to get a slew of US Region Free titles ported onto lavish UK sets, including the second in a pair of Newman gems, The Drowning Pool, which may actually be that rare superior sequel, here afforded excellent remastered video and audio, as well as a couple of extras to prevent it being utterly bare bones. Fans of Newman would have likely already imported but, if not, then it's worth hunting down in-store at HMV, where it was released straight into their ongoing 2 for £25 sale.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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