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Just released from prison, all Rudy Duncan wants is to start a new life with Ashley, the girl of the his dreams, whom he met through pen pal letters in prison. But between them and happiness stands her crazy brother, Gabriel, and his motley crue of deadly criminals who think Rudy has some inside information about a casino where he once had a job--a casino Gabriel and his short-fused posse plan to take down. Now, just as Rudy is beginning his new life, he's caught in a high-velocity avalanche of temptations and surprises that could bury him, unless he can artfully dodge them.
For more about Reindeer Games and the Reindeer Games Blu-ray release, see Reindeer Games Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 4, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, Charlize Theron, Isaac Hayes, Ron Jeremy, Donal Logue
Director: John Frankenheimer
» See full cast & crew
Reindeer Games Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 4, 2012
Of all the directors who initially made their mark in fifties (usually live) television and then matriculated into a film career, none had the odd trajectory of John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer managed to churn out one remarkable film after another in a hugely disparate variety of genres, films as different as Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, The Train and Grand Prix, often extracting Academy Award nominated performances from his actors, and yet he himself never managed to even be nominated for an Oscar. Furthermore, Frankenheimer's career was oddly akin to a roller coaster, perhaps even more than the "standard" show business career, with incredible highs followed by just as incredible lows. The sixties were arguably Frankenheimer's strongest decade, with the four films listed above and at least a couple of others helping to forge his considerable reputation, but the seventies, eighties, nineties and early two thousands are a decidedly different matter. 1977's Black Sunday is probably Frankenheimer's best known and most successful film from this multi-decade era, but even it has its detractors, and truth be told, a lot of Frankenheimer's efforts over these many years are less than stellar, and include such critically reviled films as the Val Kilmer-Marlon Brando The Island of Dr. Moreau (which frankly probably isn't that blamable on Frankenheimer, considering the film's extremely troubled production history). But sprinkled in with the relative disasters are a number of interesting efforts, including Frankenheimer's sequel to The French Connection (The French Connection II), Ronin and some good pieces HBO and TNT (Against the Wall, The Burning Season, Path to War) that saw Frankenheimer returning to his television roots to reinvigorate his directorial chops. Frankenheimer's last theatrical film was 2000's Reindeer Games, a fitfully exciting crime thriller that tries to provide a few too many twists for its own good, but which has some good elements sprinkled into an otherwise fairly turgid stew. Frankenheimer recut the film after its original release wasn't exactly greeted with critical acclaim (or measurable box office returns), and this Blu-ray presents his "Director's Cut", which includes around 20 minutes or so of additional and/or reedited footage.
Younger audiences who were introduced to the idea of the "big twist" via films like M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense have come almost addicted to screenplays that set up one reality and then suddenly pull the cinematic rug out from under them, casting everything that's gone before in a new and supposedly surprising light. For every The Sixth Sense, though, there are countless other films whose surprises aren't just predictable, they're patently ridiculous (but enough about Shyamalan's other films). Reindeer Games may not exactly be in the same league as these "big twist" films, but it attempts to get to the same destination with a series of smaller twists, most of which are in fact predictable and which when taken together make a lot of this film completely ludicrous.
Affleck portrays Rudy, a basically well meaning guy who just happens to be incarcerated for Grand Theft Auto. Rudy's buddy Nick has been engaging in a steamy pen pal relationship with a woman named Ashley (Theron), and has arranged to meet her when he's released in a few days, a release date he shares with Rudy. Need it be said that since this film stars Affleck and Theron that Nick meets the wrong end of a knife and Rudy, sensing a rare opportunity, leaves the prison, takes one look at Theron standing in the icy snowfall, and announces (after a suitably introspective phase), "Hi, I'm Nick." That sets up the first putative twist, though anyone with even on whit of precognition about how these things play out will already have a good inkling of yet another twist waiting in the wings for the third act.
Without detailing the entire laundry list of ridiculous hoops this film jumps through, it turns out that Ashley is not all sweetness and light, and is in fact in cahoots with her sociopathic brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) is a deranged criminal who wants Nick (meaning Rudy, of course) to provide information about a casino where Nick (as in the real Nick) used to work, so that Gabriel and his henchmen can rob the place. Rudy waffles on his pretense, first claiming not to be Nick and then claiming to be Nick when Gabriel seems awfully close to going completely over the edge. The whole gambit brings to mind the funny-disturbing denoument of Chinatown, and one almost expects Affleck to start channeling Faye Dunaway, but instead of screaming, "She's my daughter, she's my sister. my daughter, my sister. . .she's my sister and my daugher", he'll instead lapse into "I'm Nick, I'm Rudy, Nick, Rudy, I'm Nick and Rudy!" The only problem is Reindeer Games has none of Chinatown's wit and elegance to keep it afloat.
Frankenheimer was certainly an intelligent director, and he was always a more than competent stager of action sequences, but the fact is he simply may not have been able to overcome the inherent flaws of Ehren Kruger's screenplay. While this Director's Cut may be marginally better than the original theatrical cut, the fact is it's still not very good. The cast is game, and Sinise is actually wonderfully deranged as Gabriel, but Theron is more schizophrenic than she was in Monster and Affleck doesn't have much to do other than glare with those steely eyes. The film also is tonally very ambivalent. Some scenes are played for horror, as in a shocking scene where Sinise kills an innocent passerby, while others actually almost seem to be going for Pulp Fiction-esque irony, as in the bizarre (and not very funny) scene of Affleck dressed up like Wild Bill Hickock as he scouts an Indian casino.
Nothing about Reindeer Games makes much sense, and by the time the film wends toward its bloody conclusion, few will probably care about the biggest twist of all, which lumbers into view without the slightest whiff of shock or surprise. The fact is audiences learn the mechanics of these sorts of things rather quickly, and it becomes harder and harder to craft anything that the more prescient viewer can't see coming from a mile off. As M. Night Shyamalan has learned, probably much to his chagrin, trying to build a film around a twist is a tricky affair. It's one game that not even John Frankenheimer is able to pull off with this tired enterprise.
Reindeer Games Blu-ray, Video Quality
Reindeer Games is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate and Miramax with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. These Lionsgate-Miramax catalog releases have generally sported very good to excellent transfers, but Reindeer Games is a notable and noticeable exception to that rule. This is one of the roughest looking high definition presentations of a Miramax catalog release in recent memory, perhaps ever. The first issue is that so much of this film takes place in darkened environments, as is clearly shown in many of the screencaptures. With uneven black levels, persistent crush and often nonexistent shadow detail, this transfer descends into a muddy murky ambience in at least the darker sequences. Things are quite a bit better in more naturally lit sequences, though even these are typically filtered toward an ice blue side of the spectrum, which also robs the image of some fine detail and often leaves the film looking soft. The worst thing about this transfer is the really over the top digital sharpening, which adds some of the most persistent haloing I can remember ever seeing. It gives the film a jagged digitized look that is really unappealing some of the time. The one major plus is that this transfer gets the film closer to its original aspect ratio than previous releases, but that's not much of a consolation prize when the image itself is so disappointing.
Reindeer Games Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Reindeer Games's audio story is a good deal better, though that may be damning with faint praise. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track may not the bombastic LFE-fest that some might have wanted from a film advertised as an action thriller, but immersion is generally well done if not overwhelmingly consistent. The best surround activity takes place in both crowded environments, as in the busy casino scenes, as well as in some of the outdoor locations, as in some of the snowy, ice strewn moments where a nice sense of the vast open spaces is created. Fidelity is generally quite good, dialogue is crisp and clear, and effects are well mixed and well prioritized. This isn't a total knock your socks off presentation, but it's solid in its own way and should certainly not create the problems for high definition aficionados that the image quality will.
Reindeer Games Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Reindeer Games Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Reindeer Games is an abject lesson in not judging a book by its cover, though perhaps in the opposite way this aphorism is usually applied. In this case, seeing a film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Affleck, Theron and Sinise would probably augur well for some great entertainment. Unfortunately, just about everything in Reindeer Games fails to find its mark. This is the rare Lionsgate-Miramax catalog release that does not offer a subtantial video upgrade from its DVD release, so it's hard to recommend anything other than a rental of this release for the curious.
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Reindeer Games Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Reindeer Games: The Director's Cut Blu-ray - December 14, 2011
Lionsgate will bring another Miramax catalog title to Blu-ray with its 2012 release of the Reindeer Games director's cut. The final theatrical feature from filmmaker John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), this thriller centers on an ex-convict (Ben Affleck, ...
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