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In the vein of the brutal heist drama Reservoir Dogs, the modern crime thriller A History of Violence, and the classic western High Plains Drifter, SWELTER is a violent story of greed and retribution.
For more about Swelter and the Swelter Blu-ray release, see Swelter Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 12, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Alfred Molina, Lennie James, Josh Henderson, Grant Bowler, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Director: Keith Parmer
» See full cast & crew
Swelter Blu-ray Review
Not so hot.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 12, 2014
Though he's still very much alive and kicking, the ghost of Quentin Tarantino wafts through Swelter like a spectral entity desperately trying to attract attention to itself. A convoluted heist? Natch. Nonlinear narrative techniques? Of course. Scraggly haired thieves prone to flights of rhetorical fancy? Say no more. Perhaps surprisingly, this international co-production is nowhere near as bad as might be feared, but it's also so relentlessly derivative that it's hard to really work up much affection for it, either. Ten years after a spectacular theft of several millions of dollars from a Las Vegas Casino (did Steve Wynn pay a product placement fee to have Rio so prominently featured?), the "old gang" is getting back together to try to track down whatever happened to the money. In a series of brief flashbacks and subtitles meant to quickly get the viewer up to speed, the heist as well as its aftermath are shown in a montage of shootouts, purloined cash, and, ultimately, booking photos. Virtually all of the thieves were in fact caught, though one of them was badly injured and evidently disappeared. When some of the incarcerated bad guys bust out of stir, a long simmering stew of interrelationships is heated to the boiling point in the middle of a Nevada town called Baker, which is, as one subtitle eloquently sums it up, "in the middle of f***ing nowhere".
Swelter is one of those films that throws both caution and logic to the wind, with various individuals and/or groups converging on a location without much context or, frankly, motivation. When some of the erstwhile thieves, led by villain Cole (Grant Bowler), literally bust out of a prison chapel courtesy of a huge explosion, they end up killing hordes of guards and other prisoners, including one who seems to have been in on the plot and was helping. Why this poor sap is offed with the rest of the unfortunate victims is never explained, but that's just the first example of widespread carnage. Later, the group is confronted by a bunch of cops, with the expected body count growing. Despite this nonstop killing, there's no hint of a huge, organized police action to curtail the escapees.
Meanwhile a local sheriff named Bishop (Lennie James) is dealing with debilitating headaches caused by the remnants of bullets in his brain. Bishop attempts to get relief from the local doctor, a hard drinking joker named, well, Doc (Alfred Molina). Doc can't help Bishop with his hallucinatory dreams, which seem to suggest he was involved in some kind of illegal activity in his past. Gosh—could it have been a casino heist, per chance? One of the issues with Swelter is despite its hyperkinetic narrative style, virtually every plot point is telegraphed without much nuance or subtlety.
It of course turns out that Bishop is the missing gang member and has the location of the money tucked somewhere away in his fragile mind. When the various gang members descend upon Baker, all hell breaks loose. But writer-director Keith Parmer doesn't trust this material to provide enough dramatic weight, and so needless sidebars like some melodrama involving the daughter of Bishop's girlfriend is introduced, to putatively add some "human interest".
There's the kernel of a great idea in Swelter, and certain elements do tend to crackle with an appropriate amount of Tarantino-esque humor and violence. But the film leaves so many questions unanswered, and also goes off on so many odd tangents, that the intertwined threads never add up to much more than a frayed piece of fabric rather than a finished quilt. When you have a semi-amnesiac character in a position of power in a small western town, surrounded by a doctor who seems to know more than he's letting on and a girlfriend with a connection to the gang, there are all sorts of story connections that deserve explication. Instead, Parmer just kind of throws everything up on the screen without any background or logic, basically telling the audience, "That's just the way it is, pilgrim; deal with it."
While Swelter diffuses any inherent heat through a number of baffling plot developments, the film does offer some nicely done performances. Molina is often hilarious as the kind of snarky doctor, offering acerbic little asides throughout the film. James does a great job as the obviously conflicted Bishop, a character who has come to see himself as one of the good guys when his past seems to suggest a more villainous identity. Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty much of an afterthought here, consigned to a supporting role with next to no dialogue in what is essentially a glorified cameo. Parmer, for all of his excesses here, does stage things fairly well, though he has the tendency to choose skewed framings to highlight the increasingly improbable story. Swelter never works up much of a sweat, but there are a few decent hot flashes along the way.
Swelter Blu-ray, Video Quality
Swelter is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. There's precious little information about this film online (it evidently has never even screened theatrically in at least the United States, though it also doesn't appear to be a direct to video title), though it looks like this has been shot digitally. Whatever the dramatic ineptitudes of the film, from a visual standpoint, it's often quite bracing, with an incredibly sharp and well detailed image that makes the most of a dusty, kind of sienna brown and yellow southwestern ambience. Fine detail is excellent throughout (see screenshot 17 for a good example). Contrast is generally consistent, though appears to have been boosted in some outdoor scenes, leading to slight blooming and a subsequent loss of detail and sharpness. Colors are generally accurate looking and nicely saturated, though as with many films of this ilk, there have been various color grading issues appended to the image in post.
Swelter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Is the Muscles from Brussels big stuff in France? Swelter offers the somewhat unusual combination of English and French audio (in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0) on this release. The mixes are virtually identical save for the voice work. There's quite a bit of "oomph" right off the bat on the 5.1 track, with excellent LFE and good directionality with regard to a glut of sound effects. Things are quite impressive here even in quieter scenes, like the introductory moments with Bishop's quasi-daughter, when she's on a riverbank with her boyfriend and ambient environmental sounds nicely dot the surrounds. Dialogue is always cleanly presented, and the eruptions of things like gunfire and explosions are nicely vivid and authentic sounding.
Swelter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Swelter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jean-Claude Van Damme seems to be the marquee name here, but this film belongs pretty much to James and Molina, albeit for different reasons. Even these fine actors can't completely overcome a really labored and illogical script, though. Parmer has talent, as is evidenced by his brisk pace and (occasionally off putting) camera angles, but he needs to get a bitter handle on narrative structure and providing enough information for the audience to not just understand what's going on, but to actually care. Swelter works in fits and starts, but is ultimately kind of a non-starter, though the technical merits here are outstanding for those interested in the film.
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Swelter Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Swelter Blu-ray - Exclusive Giveaway - August 12, 2014
Blu-ray.com and Well Go USA are offering five members a chance to win a copy of Swelter. Lennie James portrays an amnesiac sheriff whose past comes back with a vengeance when a bunch of thieves show up in a small town to reclaim money from a long ago heist. ...
• Swelter Blu-ray - June 30, 2014
In the vein of the brutal heist drama Reservoir Dogs, the modern crime thriller A History of Violence and the classic western High Plains Drifter comes the violent action thriller Swelter, debuting on Blu-ray August 12 from Well Go USA Entertainment.
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