Underrated movie but poor DVD transfer
Jenny Sparks | New York, NY | 03/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I give the actual movie 4 stars but the DVD 2 stars, hence the 3 star overall rating.
About the movie itself: I first watched this some years ago late night on HBO, apparently one of those straight to video movies. I was taken by it on first viewing, and since then, have seen it in part or whole numerous times as it also has aired on Showtime, Cinemax, TMC, back to HBO and so on, always on late nights and usually on weekends (these cable networks seem to pass this movie around like that girl who guys are only interested in when... well, you get the picture.)
OK, the plot is a standard crime movie with a botched heist, murders, betrayal, etc. Nothing you haven't seen before. And the villains, in this case Colombian drug dealers (that's new, eh?) are cliched. However, these plot elements are tangential to the main focus of the movie, which is on the relationship between Joe Mantegna and Naomi Watts' characters. Both have endured pain, loss and isolation from their respective tragedies, and find solace in each others' company and pain.
I found the dialogue and interaction between them to be very poignant and moving, especially in the way they reveal their past to each other. While Mantegna, a fine actor, probably has been better in other movies, he is still at the top of his game. And I've never seen Watts act better, either before or after this movie, even in her more lauded performances. She's never been more beautiful too.
Kelly Lynch also gives the performance of her career (granted, her career is not Meryl Streep's) as a very unstable heroin addict. J.T. Walsh and
Xander Berkeley also give solid performances. Jan Favreau, however, here very buffed out, is not very good. His performance, however, is kind of entertaining in an over the top way. The score is also evocative, poignant and memorable.
About the DVD: I was kind of looking forward to this on DVD, but the actual release is pretty disappointing. Few chapters, no extras or subtitles, average sound. However, the main problem I had was w/ the picture. Though in letterbox, the transfer was obviously not touched up at all, and is grainy and drained, especially in night scenes. This movie is photographed very well and there are some beautifully framed shots courtesy of Hickenlooper and the DP, but a lot of that is taken away from this inferior transfer.
The transfer on the premium movie channels version is far more vibrant and clean. This, however, looks like VHS or some 8 MM student video at times. Save your money unless you're a fan of this movie. Actually, strike that. If you're a fan of this movie, wait for it when it eventually turns up on late night cable in a couple of months."
One of Naomi Watts's best, well before her A-list days.
Big Frank | Brooklyn, NY United States | 12/01/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you're a Naomi Watts fan, you will definitely enjoy this little noirish film, made during her pre-stardom days. She plays the part of paraplegic Molly, wheelchair-bound very young when her drunken sister (played by an excellent Kelly Lynch) crashed their car. The basic crime plot (the 2 sisters, with help, robbing a drug house of its cash) serves as a frame for a nice love story, as Joe Mantegna's character quickly falls in love with Molly. Much of the dialogue is stilted, and J. T. Walsh's sleazy police lieutenant is over the top, as is the drug cartel's hitman in the long black raincoat. But, through it all, Naomi excellently portrays a broken woman giving her all simply to hang on, and help her drug-addled sister. She tells her suitor, "I can't give you what you want." while her actions subtly show her growing attraction and trust in him. The ending, as in most noirs, is violent and tragic, but well worth sticking around for, and cemented Naomi Watts' creds, as far as I was concerned.
Early Naomi Watts Film, Well Worth Watching
Duane Thomas | Tacoma, WA United States | 10/08/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an obscure low budget film noir. Frankly I'm surprised it's so little known because (a) it has some fairly big-name actors, Joe Mantegna, Kelly Lynch, J.T. Walsh, all doing good work, but mostly (b) because it also stars a 27-year old Naomi Watts, well before her recent stardom. And Naomi OWNS this movie.
Jim Holland (Mantegna) is an ex-cop who lost his badge because he was on the pad, his marriage because he's an alcoholic, and is about to lose his security systems installation business for lack of work. One day a beautiful woman, Amanda Chenowith (Lynch) cons her way into his home and steals the plans for a security system. Jim tracks Amanda to find she and her wheelchair bound sister Molly (Watts) casing a drug house for a robbery.
Jim tracks the robbery crew after the job and, seeing where they've hidden the money, steals it in turn. Later realizing he's pretty much condemned the two women to death when the bad guys catch up with them, he has a change of heart and tries to save them instead. Rather, he does it because of Molly, with whom he's begun to fall in love. Or maybe it's more physical attraction and a sense of spiritual kinship with this broken woman. Whatever, it's compelling, and under its spell Jim risks his life to offer aid and shelter to two women who have some very bad people after them.
It's really Naomi Watts' portrayal of Molly that makes the film. Molly is a decent woman (not so decent, of course, she couldn't mastermind the robbery) who's had a hard life. Raised by a drug addicted, mentally disturbed mother, Molly is dedicated to caring for a prostitute sister who's a chip off the ol' maternal block, drug dependency/mental equilibrium-wise. Then into a wheelchair just to make things really fun.
In this beautiful, crippled woman, Jim sees perhaps his salvation. Molly's honest with him. As much as she needs his help, she doesn't try to prey on his attraction. She tells him, "I can't give you what you're looking for. I mean it. Because I'm barely hanging on myself." The expression on Namoi Watts' face at that moment - and Molly's just about telling the truth, life has taken a LOT out of her - the anguish, emotional honesty, the tears trailing down her cheeks, her whispery, choked voice, all spell "star quality." Molly's smile when Jim performs her some simple little kindness, her thin shell of toughness, the fragile cynicism she's adopted as a defense against life, all have you rooting for Molly - and Jim, despite the huge odds against them surviving the movie, much less achieving real, lasting happiness together.
I do not put forth Persons Unknown as great entertainment. Its four star rating is for the performances of Watts, Mantegna, Walsh and Lynch - in that order, in my opinion. The script is, eh, okay if a bit lacking in logic. The direction is competent, mostly. But there are way too many moments that make no sense, that have you shaking your head in disbelief at the screenwriter and director's sloppiness. Example: a group of bad guys in a van, searching for the fugitives, pass Jim heading the other way and don't even notice it - despite the fact he's in his very distinctive security business panel truck, complete with ad verbiage and business logo plastered on the sides. Stuff like that will drive you nuts. So, okay, not a great movie. But for a portrait of two life-scarred walking wounded souls, each with a kernel of decency deep inside them, finding and caring for each under as best they can, it's hard to beat."
Too formula to enjoy
Margaux Paschke | New York | 07/04/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Somewhat average film that wastes compelling and tragic interpersonal relationships (not enough attention was paid to this interesting angle to make it worth while) and instead focuses on cop turned P.I. on the trail of thieves who steal from drug lords. But all is not it seems as he ends up falling in love, going on the run from the bad guys (with all the prerequisite twists and betrayals) all leading to the showdown. We all know how this ends and I really didn't care one way or the other at that point. Give this one a miss."