Review by Michael Jacobson
Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry,
Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grand, Derek Jacobi, Kelly MacDonald, Helen Mirren,
Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Philippe, Maggie Smith, Kirstin Scott Thomas,
Director: Robert Altman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: June 25, 2002
about YOUR life?”
told you, I’m the perfect servant…I have no life.”
ambitious and literate, a masterpiece of technical filmmaking, and gorgeous to
look at. It also has very little
real entertainment value.
a fan of Robert Altman, I saw the picture during its theatrical run, where I
found as many things to praise about it as I did to criticize.
I was anxious for my second viewing with this DVD, hoping that maybe this
time I would see more of what caused so many critics to laud it so highly, and
why it was considered by many to be one of the year’s best films.
still not entirely convinced that the fault isn’t mine, but so help me, I
found little to care about in this movie. It’s
strictly a comedy of manners that emphasizes behavior over character, takes a
great deal of license from other (and better) offerings like The Remains of
the Day or even more so, Upstairs, Downstairs, and tries to throw in
a little Agatha Christie for good measure.
Altman himself calls this film a “whodunit” picture, but it kind of
fails in that regard…the murder that is key to the plot doesn’t take place
until halfway into the film, and the resolution, while dramatically satisfying,
is completely cold as a solution to a mystery.
In other words, Altman was too busy being clever with his film to
remember to leave the audience something to piece together and solve.
cast is a first rate group…go back up and read the names again.
But with about 35 main characters to juggle, and not much distinction
between them (even though there are servants and masters), you might find it a
bit of a headache to try and keep them all separate and identifiable in your
mind. With Nashville, where
once again a multitude of characters were mixed, at least there was always clear
cut distinction. Here, everybody
pretty much acts the same. You’ll
recognize the actors in most cases, like Kirsten Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren,
Maggie Smith and others…but you might be damned if you can remember their
characters’ names when they come on screen or exactly what their relationship
is to everyone else.
the film a second time helped me with that a little…I was less confused, but
not completely out of the mist, and at the same time, I realized I cared too
little about any of these people to make the effort to keep them all in mind.
By the time the conclusion rolls around, so few of them really mattered,
and the ones that really did will stick in your mind to the exclusion of all
script, by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, is filled with dry wit that offers a
chuckle here or there, but no real belly laughs. A sampling of his dialogue:
“Is she affected, or is she British?” one asks.
Another: “Quit wailing.
People will think you’re Italian.”
world he and Altman creates centers around an incredibly beautiful house
that’s a pleasure to be in for better than a couple of hours…if only there
were really anybody in the house worth listening to.
The company is divided between the upper class, who are annoyingly boring
with their pickiness and droll speech, and the servants, who would be more
interesting in and of themselves if only they didn’t stop TALKING about the
people they serve!
plot involves very little until the murder halfway through…mainly a series of
encounters crossing real and imagined lines, a bit of naughty sex, and lots and
lots of pretty sounding but ultimately inconsequential dialogue.
After the crime, things get a bit more lively, especially with the
arrival of the typically inept but funny inspector (Fry), whose botchery makes
sure the mystery remains unsolved. At
least for the characters on screen.
the audience, see the resolution…as I mentioned, it’s a terrific ending
dramatically, but not quite so satisfying from a mystery point of view.
Frankly, any one of the characters could have done it had Fellowes only
typed a different name at the end and a few different lines.
It does lead to a great and memorable scene with one of the most
notable cast members, whose name I will omit here as not to spoil the surprise.
technical achievement with this film is noteworthy, particularly in terms of the
art direction and costuming which brings the early 20th century to
vivid life. His camerawork, as
usual, is impeccable, as is his handling of terrific amounts of action and
characters. But regardless of those
who liked this movie better than I did, I can’t really see people still
talking about Gosford Park in 20 years the way we talk about Nashville
or M*A*S*H now.
Park is a
beautiful film with very little soul or heart…and not nearly as clever as it
anamorphic transfer is essentially a good one…most visual flaws can be
attributed to the filming style. For
example, there is noticeable grain in certain shots, but not because of
compression…these are owing to the higher contrast film stock Altman used to
take advantage of lower light. These
scenes also are a bit softer than others, but again, the effect is intentional.
Generally, coloring is very good, and the detail in the house is
impressive and magnificent. I
noticed no shimmer or bleeding to spoil the imagery…nicely done overall.
don’t believe the subwoofer came on once during the entire presentation, which
is surprising, considering that the film opens with a terrific rain/thunder
sequence. It’s so real sounding
and makes such good use of front and rear stages you might just think the
weather turned bad around your house…yet the thunder’s bass is handled by
your regular speakers. In many of
the film’s crowd scenes, the multi-channel sound is well used, keeping voices
and sounds of the house coming at you from all directions.
The audio is well balanced and clever in its mix and function, and
therefore better than you might expect for a largely dialogue-oriented film.
Altman continues his trend of not producing the best commentary tracks in the
world…as with many of his other DVD releases, the track he offers here is
frequently sparse, and tending to state the obvious. The good bits of information are like gold nuggets…you have
to kind of pan for them. A better
track is the one by Oscar winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who speaks more
fluidly, and offers plenty of interesting stories as to where ideas for
incidents in the script came from…some were based on true occurrences!
disc also includes a making-of featurette, a look at the authenticity of the
movie as far as the servants’ roles are concerned, and a 25 minute Q&A
session with Altman and some of his cast and crew. Rounding out are twenty minutes of deleted scenes with
optional Altman commentary, and though unlisted on the box, the original