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A small-time con man tries to avoid getting involved in big-time crime.
For more about The Grifters and the The Grifters Blu-ray release, see the The Grifters Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on September 2, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jeremy Piven, Frances Bay
Narrator: Martin Scorsese
Director: Stephen Frears
» See full cast & crew
The Grifters Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 2, 2009
Produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Stephen Frears, "The Grifters" (1990) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Optimum Home Entertainment. Unfortunately, there are no supplemental features to be found on their disc. Region-B "locked".
Nothing is what it seems in Stephen Frears' The Grifters, a terrific piece of neo-noir based on Jim Thompson's novel. In fact, legendary director Martin Scorsese liked its script so much that he agreed to do the short narration the film opens up with (he is also one of its producers).
The Grifters follows the deeds of three con artists: Roy Dillon (John Cusack, Being John Malkovich), a salesman who does not do a lot of selling - he steals as often and as much as he could; his mistress, Myra Langtry (Annette Bening, The American President), who also has a gig of her own, though Roy knows nothing about it; and his mother, Lilly (Angelica Houston, Prizzi's Honor), who has been loyal to the mob for years but is finally getting ready to call it quits.
When Roy gets beat up in a bar and ends up in ER, Lilly immediately shows up to help him out. Myra also arrives and all hell breaks loose. Before the two women part ways, they make sure to let each other know exactly what's on their minds. Roy does not like the drama.
Roy and Myra end up in La Jolla – to relax and spend some much needed time together. Myra tells Roy about her past and begs him to let her join his "business". All she really wants, however, is Roy's savings. Lilly, who knows exactly what Myra is after, decides to teach her a lesson.
The Grifters was British director Stephen Frears' first American project. Prior to it, he had made a name for himself with two other films – the quirky comedy Pick Up Your Ears (1987) and period piece Dangerous Liaisons (1988). The latter won three Oscars, including Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Christopher Hampton).
The Grifters did not win any Oscars – it was nominated for four: Best Director (Stephen Frears), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Anjelica Huston), Best Actress in a Supporting Role(Annette Bening), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Donald E. Westlake) – but it should have. It is an incredibly well scripted film that works on multiple levels. It effectively blends comedy with drama while remaining true to the canons of classic noir cinema.
The main characters in the film are incredibly convincing. They all have their fair share of problems that force them to compete with each other. Often times it is impossible to predict what their next move would be, which is one of the key reasons why The Grifters is so entertaining.
The Grifters is also a good drama. Lilly and Roy's mother-son relationship could have been the focus of attention in an entirely different film. The moral dilemmas they struggle with seem a bit unusual for a noir film, but in The Girfters they work to perfection.
To those of you who have already seen and liked The Grifters, I would like to recommend a similarly themed Spanish film by Miguel Bardem. It is called Incautos and is distributed in North America under the more revealing title Swindled. The film teams up legendary Argentinean actor Federico Luppi with Pedro Almodovar favorite Victoria Abril and youngster Ernesto Alterio. I saw Incautos a few years ago at a small film festival that I like to attend whenever possible and thought that it looked as good as The Grifters.
The Grifters Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Stephen Frears' The Grifters arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment.
I am staring to believe that there is some sort of conspiracy going on with this film. I've gone through four different releases of it – an old laserdisc, two Region 1 SDVDs by Miramax, and a Dutch Region 2 SDVD – and they all had their fair share of problems. First it was the lack of a proper anamorphic transfer, then it was the macroblocking issue, and finally there was the lackluster audio treatment. Here we are again with yet another release of The Grifters, this time around on Blu-ray. Well, once again I have mixed feelings about a disc that I want to like but am unsure if I should. Here's why:
The good news – contrast and clarity are pleasing. As far as I am concerned, they represent a major upgrade over the Miramax SE SDVD. The macroblokcing that plagues the SDVD is also nowhere to be seen on the Blu-ray. Generally speaking, the color-scheme is also a lot more convincing. The best news, however, is that heavy digital noise reduction has not been applied on this transfer.
The bad news – it is fairly easy to tell that Optimum Home Entertainment have used dated elements to bring The Grifters to Blu-ray. There are a number of tiny flecks and scratches that I noticed. I don't believe that they would detract from your viewing experience, but some of you might be slightly annoyed by their presence. There are some stability issues with the color-scheme as well. For example, some of the indoor scenes look a bit problematic. I also spotted quite a bit of mild edge-enhancement.
Overall, this Blu-ray disc represents an obvious upgrade over the existing Miramax SE SDVD release. There is a lot to like about it, but I think that it could have easily looked a lot better. A single clean-up of the tiny flecks would have done miracles. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" disc. Therefore, unless you have a native Region-B or Region-Free player, you won't be able to access the disc's content).
The Grifters Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and English LPCM 2.0 track. I opted for the English LPCM 2.0 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for the purpose of this review.
I purposely decided to watch the film with the with the English LPCM 2.0 track. I am very well familiar with it, so as soon as I received my disc, I tested a few scenes with it and found that I liked a lot more what I heard with the English LPCM 2.0 track than with what I heard with the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.
The dialog is actually slightly easier to follow on the English LPCM 2.0 track. On the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track there are certain scenes where the dialog isn't as clear as it should be. There isn't much activity in the surround channels on the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but the little that you would hear I believe it interferes with the dialog (the final scene is great example). This being said, there are no pops, cracks, or hissings that I detected. Elmer Bernstein's score sounds lovely. For the record, once again Optimum Home Entertainment have not provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The Grifters Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Most unfortunately, there are no supplemental features to be found on this Blu-ray disc.
The Grifters Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I am going to recommend this Blu-ray release of Stephen Frears' The Grifters assuming that a similar one won't appear in North America any time soon. Yes, its transfer reveals a few minor issues, but the film most certainly looks the best it ever has. That said, these budget Blu-ray discs Optimum Home Entertainment are offering would likely be the only way for us to see quite a few older films in High Definition. I don't mind that as long as the great price tags they arrive with remain unchanged. Recommended.
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