I consider this film a virtual masterpiece until its final, hackneyed resolution to the murder mystery at its core. Even with the botched ending, it's hard not to be floored by the work of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins (both Oscar winners) in Clint Eastwood's moody, somber film. When Penn's daughter is murdered, Robbins, a victim of major trauma in childhood, becomes the prime suspect. Eastwood lets his actors do most of the work, and the cast (which also includes Kevin Bacon and Laura Linney) is exemplary. Eastwood does some of his finest work as a director, that is, until Brian Helgeland's screenplay almost sabotages the film in the end. That the film still gets a high grade is a testament to Penn and Robbins, who often propel the film into the stratosphere. With this kind of emotional powerhouse work being exhibited, it's easy to forgive the film's shortcomings.
Special Features: The three-disc special edition comes with the entire CD soundtrack (composed by Eastwood) and a disc devoted to documentaries and interviews. If you are a fan of Charlie Rose, the disc contains three interview segments with Eastwood, Bacon and Robbins. Robbins and Bacon deliver a tremendously entertaining and good-natured commentary (Robbins introduces the film as "Mystic Pizza"). It is clear that Robbins has a relatively sick sense of humor, and God bless him for it. Also available in a single DVD version.
Thirty years after its initial release, this one still stands as an all-time-classic shock comedy. It's shocking in that it got away with so much considering the era in which it was released and, of course, due to its liberal use of racial slurs and fart sounds. Mel Brooks was at the top of his game with this and Young Frankenstein (both released in 1974). Filmed with the grand scope of an old-fashioned Western, Brooks has a top-notch cast including Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder and Harvey Korman. They play the jokes straight, as if the performers never knew they were saying anything funny. It works beautifully, and to watch this now almost brings about a sense of sadness considering the decline in the Brooks output since things started to go bad with History of the World Part 1 (1981).
Little, in a role originally intended for Richard Pryor, plays Bart, a black railroad worker jailed after konking Slim Pickens on the head with a shovel. After being sentenced to hang, an evil scheming businessman (Korman) makes him the sheriff of Rock Ridge, a town soon to be desecrated by a railroad. The Western city can't wrap its head around the concept of a black authority figure, so trouble ensues. Little proves himself a master of comic timing, and it doesn't hurt that his sidekick is Gene Wilder as the drunken Waco Kid. The campfire scene is legendary; Madeline Kahn's rendition of "I'm Tired!" superb; and nothing is funnier than Harvey Korman repeatedly hitting his head on a window. To watch something like Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995, just released to DVD) makes one wonder what happened to Brooks, one of the greatest comic geniuses to ever walk the Earth. By 1978's very funny High Anxiety, he had shot his wad. Sad.
Special Features: This is the second DVD release for this film, and it is certainly the better buy. However, the scene-specific commentary by Brooks is nothing more than a prior interview being played underneath the movie until the 55 minute mark. It is not a commentary by any stretch of the imagination, because none of his words match the action on screen. Some excellent deleted scenes (edited into the film for its television broadcast) are contained here, along with two decent documentaries. The big bonus: the entire 1975 TV pilot Black Bart, a proposed spinoff of the film starring Louis Gossett and Steve Landesberg. It's so bad, it reminds of Brooks' current work.
Director Fernando Meirelles got an Academy Award nomination for his stunning work about the "City of God," a real slum in Rio De Janeiro where violence reaches insane levels. Alexandre Rodrigues delivers powerful work as Rocket, a failed criminal who turns to photography as a means for survival in the chaos. Leonardo Firmino da Hora is a revelation as Li'l Ze, one of the more frightening villains put to screen in recent memory. The film contains shocking violence, including a scene where a young boy gets shot in the foot. Sometimes hard to take, it's fantastic filmmaking, deserving of the praise it received.
Special Features: An hour-long documentary, News From a Personal War, is of some interest. But that's it for features, so only true lovers of the film will want to make this purchase.