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Anchor Bay presents
Eli Cross: You did that very well.
DVD ReviewThe Stunt Man is an incredible achievement, a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking film about making movies, about paranoia and love, and how our illusions change our reality. Richard Rush's 1980 masterpiece is even more impressive when you take into account that the rest of his career is filled with low-brow comedies, biker films, and other artifacts of the 1960s. Also, given the film's troubled production history, it's amazing that he got The Stunt Man released at all, and let alone have it become one of the greatest films of the 1980s.
Loosely based on Paul Brodeur's novel, The Stunt Man stars Steve Railsback as Vietnam vet Cameron, who is now on the run from the police for some unknown crime. While escaping, he unwittingly kills a stunt man working on a movie, and the director, Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole), offers Cameron a job as a replacement stunt man on his World War I picture. Eli sees in Cameron the kind of razor's edge desperation that he thinks the main character in his film has, and Cameron sees Cross as a kindly benefactor. Cameron is also tempted by the film's star, Nina (Barbara Hershey), so he learns the tricks of the trade, and Eli starts using him for advice on how to rewrite the film. However, as the stunts become increasingly complex and dangerous, and Cameron learns of Nina's past relationships, his Vietnam paranoia kicks in, and the line between illusion and reality blur together until neither Cameron nor the audience can tell what is real and what is not.
The Stunt Man has everything going for it: great acting, great writing, and great directing. It all starts with the script: literate, funny, and always a step ahead of the viewer, the writing is all-around rock solid. Almost every character has dialogue that results in laughter and, as Richard Rush says, this is one of the few films where the action tells the story and the dialogue talks about the themes. Rush, in the documentary included on this set, says that the great thing about the film is that the theme of Eli Cross' movie is the same as Richard Rush's. Therefore, Eli can pontificate about his movie all he wants, and give the themes and messages of The Stunt Man to the audience, without it looking like a character is preaching the messages of the film.
Of course, with bad actors, even a great script can't save a movie, but luckily The Stunt Man has some incredible thespians. Peter O'Toole is the obvious star, playing the multifaceted Cross with a suave demeanor that only hints at what lies beneath the surface. While I can't say that O'Toole is better than Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, I still have to say that his was one of the best performances of 1980, and it might be the best performance of O'Toole's entire career. Steve Railsback as Cameron is very visceral, very intense, and very real. I wonder why he hasn't been cast in many other major roles, especially since he was working with Elia Kazan before he went to work on The Stunt Man. Barbara Hershey's performance is also quite good, especially considering that she not only has to play her character, but also has to play a character for the film-within-the-film. I think her performance her solidifies her status as one of the more underrated actresses in Hollywood.
Perhaps the most fun thing about The Stunt Man, after the script, is the editing and visual style. Richard Rush delights in making the audience sure they are seeing one thing, and then turning around and showing them something else. For example, in one scene, Cameron is dancing on the wing of a World War I plane. Suddenly he slips, and is hanging by his fingertips off the edge of the wing. We see the crowd below him look away in shock and fear, and when we cut back, we find out that in between the time when he was dancing and when he slipped, Richard had cut to a different scene, where the plane is on a rig, only a few feet off the ground. Cuts like that make the audience perk up and pay attention, and Rush continually plays with our expectations. By the time we get to the finale, we expect anything and everything to happen. Rush also shows he is capable of handling high comedy, action, and drama with equal skill.
Another distinctive feature of The Stunt Man is Dominic Frontiere's score. From the carnivalesque main theme, to Eli's rhythmic, driving theme, to the sweeping love thing, the score is irresistibly catchy, and yet somehow perfectly complements the action without commenting on it. A subtle piece of business, that. Also, notice how many times the main theme is used in different musical styles. This is one score that just sticks with you wherever you go after you've heard it, just like all of The Stunt Man stays with you, once you've seen it, and hopefully makes you think twice about what you accept as reality.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The Stunt Man has one of the strangest transfers I've ever seen. Some scenes look so pristine that they could have been filmed yesterday, while others look like they're coming from a second-generation VHS copy, and sometimes one scene looks like both. There's no rhyme or reason to which shots look good and which don't; some of the exteriors have high details and great color delineation, while others look grainy and overexposed. Again, some of the interiors look fantastic, while others look too dark and muddy.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The sound is better than the video. The DTS-ES mix sounds clear, although dialogue sounds dated. The score and effects come through cleanly, clearly, and sound quite loud. The Dolby Digital EX track basically sounds the same as the DTS version, although a lot softer. You have to crank up the knob with the DD EX mix to reach the volume of the lower levels of the DTS mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director/Producer/Co-Writer Richard Rush, Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey, Alex Rocco, Sharon Farrell, Chuck Bail
Packaging: Double Alpha
Layers Switch: 01h:10m:22s
On disc two, there is a 114-minute documentary, The Sinister Saga of Making The Stunt Man. Written, directed, and narrated by Richard Rush, the documentary chronicles almost the whole story of The Stunt Man, starting with its conception, but finishing before they talk about how the film found its audience on home video. The documentary is in a very tongue-in-cheek style, with Richard Rush employing a lot of matting effects to keep the viewer interested throughout, and also to make up for the lack of any behind-the-scenes footage. Still, Rush is enigmatic enough to carry the documentary and tell the story in such a way that it stays enjoyable through its admittedly long running time. It also helps that we see some great interview clips with Hershey, Railsback, O'Toole, and other selected cast members.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsA cinematic wonder, The Stunt Man marvels again and again with its subtleties and mix of humor, drama, and action. Outstanding performances from both the leads and the supporting characters, an incredible score, and daring directing make The Stunt Man unbeatable. With commentary, deleted scenes, a great documentary, and even more informative extras, The Stunt Man: Limited Edition is the definitive version of Richard Rush's masterpiece.
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