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Kansas City
Kansas City
Actors: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Robert Altman
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
R     2005     1hr 56min

In Kansas City during the Depression a young man robs a gambler and is held hostage by a mysterious night club owner. In response the man's wife kidnaps a socialite whom she tries to trade for her husband.Running Time: 115...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Robert Altman
Creators: Robert Altman, David C. Thomas, James McLindon, Matthew Seig, Scott Bushnell, Frank Barhydt
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: New Line Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/15/2005
Original Release Date: 08/16/1996
Theatrical Release Date: 08/16/1996
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 56min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Ovelooked and underated American Film Noir Masterpiece
cvairag | Allan Hancock College | 03/09/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Robert Altman, one of the foremost filmakers of the last thirty years followed up what many consider to be his magnum, "Short Cuts", with this quietly more ambitious project. "Short Cuts" finished 'place' at the Oscars to "Shindler's List" and helped spawn the career of Juliana Moore (sort of like Sissy Spacek in "Welcome To L.A.") although I personally liked virtually all the other performances better (and there are some great ones in it).
The release of "Kansas City" followed hard upon the heals of the Oscar 'second best', and met with 'mediocre' to 'ok' critical reviews. Thus, the film didn't have much of a run in the theatres, playing to sparsely filled houses, who basically came to see the novelty of Harry Belafonte playing a rip-snorting gangster in an Altman film. Nor was the DVD release much of a hit.
What kept the movie alive basically was the magnificent soundtrack - a group of the best of the new generation of jazz musicians playing Kansas City jazz - well - as well as Count Basie and that guy who invented the jazz saxophone (what was his name?) - oh yeah, Coleman Hawkins, themselves. The CD became a classic, and a few people discovered that Altman had fostered this long time love for Kansas City jazz, and now that he was a bigshot and could finally raise lots of money to make any film he wanted, he decided to act on his long time dream to recreate the Kansas City Jazz scene in the early thirties in a movie.
And what an incredible recreation it is! There is even a separate one + hour film which Altman made of simply the bands (as recreated by the contemporary musicians playing all the tracks in the film and on the CD and more, and nothing else!) This film evokes an amazing, dreamlike experience and ranks with any performance of twentieth century music currently on DVD, and I wish they would release it when they release the director's cut, which I predict they will (my 30 year track record is pretty good).
Simply put, "Kansas City" is a noir masterpiece. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives an incredibly complex, brilliant performance and which is only to be matched by her foil, Miranda Richardson. One of the great "two chick" flicks of all time, one wonders why Altman seems to be the only director who sees Leigh for what she is: the best American actress of her generation. Belafonte and the rest of the cast are up to the searing standards demanded by these lead performances, and the script and the almost superhuman attention to detail evidenced in the sets, editing, and every frame, make one wonder what exactly the critics had in mind when they watched this film for the first time.
But the music . . . the bands themselves take on a certain personification and become characters participating in the action of the story.
I believe "Kansas City" is due for a re-evaluation and may go down as the greatest venture of both Leigh and Altman, and that's saying a lot."
Great Movie, Insipid Plot
Denis L. Baggi | Lugano, Switzerland | 05/09/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The reason I adore this movie is because of the accuracy of the recreation. Everything matches with what a jazz lover knows about Kansas City at that time: the characters named in the movie - up to Bennie Moten's (died in 1935, leader of the orchestra Count Basie took over) surgeon, Charlie Parker's mother, Lester Young, Hawkins (somewhat less); the characters seen and mentioned, such as Tom Prendergast (the ganster who got Truman a start), John Lazzia etc; and characters just seen but not mentioned, such as the lady playing piano - Geri Allen, who looks like Mary Lou Williams -, the singing bartender patterned after Big Joe Turner.Then there is the music which is just great, a successful recreation of ancient jazz, which can be heard in "Robert Altman's Jazz '34" and purchased separately in two CD's, "Kansas City" (the original soundtrack) and "Kansas City After Dark", all three available ar Amazon and reviewed. On the positive side for the movie I'll mention the great interpretation by Harry Belafonte and Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Stilton), less so of Jennifer Jason Leigh. I think the weak side is the plot: Blondie (Leigh) abducts Mrs. Stilton to get back his man, who is in custody of the black gangasters (Belafonte) for a hold-up. Then Blondie goes on talking and talking with a somewhat annoying and exaggerated pitch.I conjecture Altman wanted to make a movie on his home town in the moment of maximum musical blossing and jazz development and he gave less importance to plot and characters, more to the music. I think we can be happy with that, but as a jazz lover I prefer the above-mentioned "Jazz '34"."
Might Have The Best Ending Ever
Only-A-Child | 04/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Bottom line, whether you love or hate "Kansas City" will depend on your reaction to Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance. Leigh's character Blondie anchors the story as a desperate wife trying to save her husband from the gangsters he tried to rob. Leigh looks great in this role, she is fit and trim which makes her face that much cuter. The contrast between her almost angelic appearance and her tough persona is intentional because the toughness is an affectation, qualities she has adopted because she loves her husband and they are a turn-on for him.

Her's is the key performance of the film, the twist is her emulation of Kansas City native Jean Harlow ("The Public Enemy" and "Girl from Missoui"). Watch Harlow in "Red Headed Woman" to see the incredible physical resemblance between these two short actresses. Personally I found it touching, humorous, and inspirational. But it is almost a caricature and many are put off by this tiny woman talking so tough.

As in "Nashville", there are great songs (but jazz rather than country) throughout the film. It is important to realize that "Blondie's" behavior is intended to mirror the "cutting contests" between the jazz musicians on-stage at the club. Just as the musicians borrow from one another and weave each others stuff into what they are improvising, "Blondie" borrows from the movies and weaves Harlow's tough girl phrases and expressions into her conversation.

Leigh and Miranda Richardson spend most of the film in each other's company. Although Richardson's character is doped up on laudanum (tincture of opium) most of the time, you get the idea that she is taking in a lot more of the situation than she is letting on. It is a fascinating pairing. One of them has lost all restraint, the other has lost everything but her restraint. There is almost a "Thelma and Louise" quality to their relationship, in part because Leigh doing Harlow ends up sounding a lot like Geena Davis doing Geena Davis.

Richardson's character is unexpectedly touching. An emotional bond is subtly forged between the two women as the film proceeds, with Richarson actually becoming protective of her kidnapper. The ending is shocking but you understand the motivation (or you will if you watch it again), then looking back you pick up on the various foreshadowing devices that Altman placed throughout the film. He goes out with a bass duet of Duke Ellington's "Solitude" performed by Ron Carter and Christian McBride.

Like many films with downbeat endings, "Kansas City" is destined to be more appreciated 25 years after its release.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child."
One of my favorites!
Denis L. Baggi | 03/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This movie got mediocre reviews (and some major dissing), but it is one of my favorites. I've watched it about ten times (you almost have to, the story line is so involved--classic Altman). I bought the video, because I will probably never tire of the awesome soundrack, the cool sets and wardrobe, and the great characters and storyline. Very, very dark--loved it!"