The Grifters Blu-ray Review
Who hustles the hustlers?
The Grifters had the source elements to be a crime classic, but ends up little more than an enjoyable but flawed little neo-noir gem, with director Stephen Frears struggling to find focus.Based on the source novel by celebrated pulp author Jim Thompson (The Getaway) adapted for the screen by pulp author Donald E. Westlake (Point Blank, Payback, Parker) who would win an Oscar for his trouble, and featuring a trio of strong performances from Anjelica Huston as well as then-upcoming John Cusack and Annette Bening, the film's weak link can ostensibly be found in Dangerous Liaisons helmer Stephen Frears. He turned in a snappy, stylishly-edited feature that's almost proto-Tarantino in nature, no doubt assisted by input from none other than Scorsese. The trouble was that the source material was never going to make for a conventional heist caper - which is what The Grifters feels like - as Thompson never plays things that simply in his books.Nihilistic to the core, seldom have Thompson's books been adapted straight (The Getaway stripped the journey-into-purgatory ending which would eventually be shaped into the premise for From Dusk till Dawn), and, when they were, it ended up being a pretty sour ride (The Killer Inside Me). Westlake's straight adaptation and Frears' unfocused direction could be seen as misdirection - turning a caper feature into a darker playground for Oedipal urges, murderous intent and mob retribution - but it feels less intentional than that, with the snazzy three-way split-screen opening sequence a far cry from the closing moments - as if it started all Ocean's Eleven and ended all Angel Heart. As neo-noir gems go, this one has more flaws than you'd like, but is still worth checking out.
Picture Quality101 Films unveil their new Black Label series with two flagship titles - David Cronenberg's 1999 horror-twinges sci-fi thriller Existenz, and Stephen Frears' 1990 neo-noir crime drama, The Grifters. The Grifters, a re-release following its inauspicious UK Blu-ray bow courtesy of Optimum almost a decade back, is delivered here on a Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a solid 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen.
The Grifters may not look demo or reference, but it likely looks better than it ever has before.
Whilst hardly knocking it out of the park, The Grifters has likely never looked better, afforded decent clarity despite the innate softness that appears consummate to the original 1990 source material and perhaps also to the intended style of the neo-noir piece. There are some nice close-ups, particularly in face shots, and even if mid-range and longer shots are a little softer, at least there are no signs of the over-sharpening applied to the other Black Label title released at the same time as this, Existenz, which is 10 years younger but looks considerably worse.
The colour scheme sticks to its noir style, slightly muted but boasted a few nice warm tones and healthy skin colour, with reasonable black levels that only lapse into a hint of crush. It's also a clean presentation, lacking in obvious signs of damage, belying it's near-thirty year vintage as well as its clearly limited budget and scale. The Grifters may not look demo or reference in any way, shape or form, but it likely looks better than it ever has before.
Sound QualityAuthentic and faithful to the material.The disc's lossless LPCM 2.0 track may not be quite the six-speaker remix that fans might have hoped for, but at least it's authentic and faithful to the material, delivering the source elements with aplomb. Dialogue remains firmly priories across the frontal array, whilst effects - nominally atmospheric - allow the track some better sense of scale in spite of its stereo styling. Racetracks buzz with action, bars bustle with activity and cars screech around the streets at night, whilst Elmer Bernstein's jazz-esque score tries its best to telegraph the tonal shifts and thus heighten the tension, even if the film's director doesn't appear able to keep up. It's a strong audio accompaniment, small scale and hardly anything approaching demo, but faithful to the material.
ExtrasPrevious releases of the title have afforded it a director's commentary and some small featurettes, so it's initially a little disappointing to find only one extra feature adorning this disc, that is until you realise that it's a whopping great feature-length documentary, Seduction. Betrayal. Murder. The Making of The Grifters, newly-minted for this release and featuring contributions from many of the key players. Arguably better than a commentary, it dissects the production in just about as much detail as any fan would like.
Blu-ray VerdictAs neo-noir gems go, this one has more flaws than you'd like, but is still worth checking out.
A re-release of The Grifters makes for a slightly unusual choice for 101 Films to debut their new Black Label Blu-ray line with, but at least it's given a better video presentation that their other flagship title, the debut of Existenz, and with very good sound and a great feature length documentary to boot, fans will enjoy revisiting this neo-noir flick on this new release.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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