Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey
Director: Ted Demme
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003
in Hell. Connecticut is the fifth ring of Hell.Ē
The late Ted Demme was one of those rare filmmakers, like Barry Levinson,
who was good at making just about any kind of genre movie. He mainly specialized
in comedies, particularly those with a certain edge, and The Ref is just
such a comedy. The movie never loses steam for a second, offering laugh out loud
chuckles every few minutes, and a good line of dialogue in its it entirety,
making the script one of the funniest and sharpest of any comedy of the last
decade. Not only was The Ref, I think, Demme's best film, but I certainly
find it to be one of the funniest movies ever made.
Set on Christmas Eve in a small Connecticut town, the story is set around
the endless disaster that is the marriage of Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd
(Kevin Spacey). This couple epitomizes bitterness, as they specialize in
non-stop arguments and temper tantrums. They can't even keep their cool during a
visit with a marriage therapist in the riotous opening scene. Caroline admits to
having an affair in the past, but Lloyd surprisingly still has faith in the
marriage, even though she resents him for trying to live a married life while in
servitude to his snotty mother.
Their night soon takes an unexpected turn when they cross paths with Gus
(Denis Leary) a cat burglar who is on the run from the cops following an
unsuccessful heist. He takes the couple hostage, and is indeed armed with a gun,
but even Gus soon learns that even a menace like him can't hold a candle to the
pain and suffering of the two's constant bickering. Even when they are each tied
to a chair, they continue to fight, forgetting at times that Gus is even in the
same room. In fact, it seems that every time Gus threatens them, the predicament
grows even more unbearable.
Gus is clearly at the breaking point, waiting to hear from his deadbeat
partner whoís scouting for a getaway source, but his current status is nothing
compared to what it will eventually escalate to when the bitter relatives arrive
for Christmas dinner. The only possible way out for Gus is to pose as the
coupleís marriage counselor, whose name happens to be Dr. Wong, and Gus
isnít much of a Wong-type. The dinner scene is quite simply one of the
funniest scenes in the history of cinema, as issues of adultery and lying
replace the normal talk of issues during a Christmas gathering.
Above anything else, this movie belongs, first and foremost, to Denis
Leary. Prior to making movies, Leary was one of the top rising stand up comics
on the scene, and his energy and edge both make him, to me, one of the funniest
men of all time. Those who are familiar with Learyís comic acts will note that
he can talk at a rampant speed that might even put the likes of Robin Williams
to shame. With his breakthrough role in The Ref, Leary was able to take
that razor sharp persona and apply it to a character whoís about ready to
explode as a result of the situation heís found himself in. There isnít a
single line from him that doesnít induce even the slightest chuckle. Even with
the casting of Kevin Spacey, who a rising actor at the time, Leary manages to
steal the show. He and Ted Demme would later reunite for a much different movie,
the 1998 powerful drama, Monument Ave.
Everyone has their own personal comedy favorite where every scene and line
sticks with them for life. For me, that movie is The Ref. Iíve gotten
many friends to discover this movie over the past few years, and now that itís
finally hit DVD, I hope to have many more friends and acquaintances discover it
and laugh as hard as I did the first time I saw it.
this isnít all that bad a transfer from Disney, but I do have one question.
Why did it not get the anamorphic touch? In the last few years, I donít think
Iíve come across a single disc from the studio that wasnít presented in the
right anamorphic way. My guess is that the disc had already been completed, and
was set for release long ago when Disney was paving the way for non-anamorphic
releases, and had simply been delayed. Having said that, this was actually a
very acceptable presentation, as I found the picture to be clear for the most
part, and colors very natural, as well.
For a dialogue driven comedy, The Ref has been given a noteworthy
5.1 audio touch. I had seen the movie many times prior to the DVD, and didnít
expect the good sound range that was presented. Some numerous physical comedy
bits play out very well, in addition. Overall, an impressive disc that will
surprise you in a few areas.