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Paramount Studios presents
Flesh and Bone (1993)

"You and me, we're flesh and bone. The same blood that runs my veins, runs yours."
- Roy Sweeney (James Caan)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: April 17, 2002

Stars: Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan, Gwyneth Paltrow
Other Stars: Scott Wilson, Christopher Rydell
Director: Steve Kloves

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality, and a scene of intense violence
Run Time: 02h:06m:06s
Release Date: April 16, 2002
UPC: 097363289944
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-B+B+ D-

DVD Review

Grading a film based on both style and substance certainly comes in handy when reviewing a film like Flesh and Bone, where these two core elements of filmmaking are greatly divided. I am not sure I have ever seen a film so mesmerizing yet simultaneously frustrating. I would not go as far as to say that Flesh and Bone is all style and no substance, but it is a prime example of style greatly surpassing substance.

The film opens with a chilling scene involving a young boy named Arlis and his father (James Caan) burglarizing the home of a rural Texas family. It would be unfair of me to discuss details, but I will say that the heightened tension and shocking outcome of this sequence are relentlessly well crafted. Flash forward 30 years, we meet Arlis (Dennis Quaid) as a middle-aged man, still haunted by his agonizing past and memories of his evil father. About the only thing keeping him together is his drab routine as a travelling vending machine salesman. Through his travels, Arlis hooks up with Kay (Meg Ryan), a woman running from an abusive marriage and plagued with haunting memories. As events unfurl, the two come face to face with their horrifying pasts, and discover that they are connected in more ways than they knew.

Flesh and Bone is the type of thriller that never relies on cheap scares or action, but rather an eerie, foreboding stillness. Yes, the film moves slowly, but I could not take my eyes off the screen. Writer/director Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys) implicitly knows that his film is an exercise in atmosphere over events, and he never ceases to amaze with the way he is able to instill a chilling sense of despondency into every scene. Kloves successfully inserts humor into many scenes without damaging the underlying sense of melancholy. Veteran cinematographer Philippe Rousselot has masterfully photographed the desolate locales with stark lighting and a gloomy haze. The entire aesthetic of the film has an appropriate grit that could be referred to as "Texan noir." No film is complete without a musical score, and Thomas Newman has delivered another unsung masterpiece. Though infrequent and subtle, Newman's score has a haunting resonance that roots itself deep into the soul of the film. Without it, Flesh and Bone would suffer considerably.

Flesh and Bone boasts a strong sense of character thanks to four solid performances. It would be easy to criticize Dennis Quaid for under acting, yet closer inspection will reveal that he finds the right amount of pathos in portraying his tortured character. Meg Ryan casts aside her cute persona and characterizes a naïve and tormented soul quite admirably. Though James Caan often seems a bit dry, he is no stranger to playing a menacing fiend, and this is no exception to his powerful streak of malevolence. The most noteworthy performance comes from Gwenyth Paltrow, who appears in her first major starring role. Here, as always, she radiates an instinctual sense towards the art of acting. Her talent is one of the more satisfying contributions to this project.

For all of the film's triumphs, the major blunder is its awkward story line. It begins and ends on the right notes, but much of what happens in between feels contrived. The element of a man who cannot shake his past or his roots is gripping, yet the many events that bring him to his inevitable destination happen purely as a result of movie magic. The nature in which all of the characters come together is not only predictable, but also a convenient way of moving the story along. All of the implausible occurrences are quite a disappointment for a film that is otherwise artistically compelling.

Even with all of the story's shortcomings, the film's impeccable style is never undermined. I am still envisioning the gritty interiors and barren Texas landscapes. It is a shame that Steve Kloves has not directed a film since, as he certainly has all the makings of a great filmmaker. Flesh and Bone may be far from perfect, but it is undoubtedly a distinctive and entertaining experience that I highly recommended.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The opening sequence had me nervous. Colors and hues are off-balance to the point of distraction, black level is murky, and the print excessively dirty. After this shaky beginning, the visual characteristic evens out, and the remainder of the film is an eye-stimulating experience. Black level is thick and colors are equally attractive. I was pleasantly surprised with the lack of video noise. Edge enhancement proves to be the most irritating transfer-related deficiency; while its presence is infrequent, it does prove to be bothersome when evident. Overall, the anamorphic 1.85:1 image transfer exhibits a stunning film-like appearance.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: In this tasteful 5.1 mix, dialogue always sounds clean and natural, without the slightest hint of distortion. Stereo separation is seamless, with smooth panning and a strong musical presence. Thomas Newman's score flows through the entire soundstage with a lush and enveloping presence, although the excessive mid-bass is distorted and overbearing. Surround use is moderate, though constantly active with the sound of rain, wind, and other natural elements. Even though the soundtrack was created near the birth of multi-channel digital soundtracks, this 5.1 mix stands up admirably against more recent soundtracks in terms of fidelity and creativity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:59s

Extras Review: If they can even be considered a special feature, the only offering is English subtitles. Otherwise, it appears as if Paramount has focused more on bone rather than flesh for this release. While special features are always a welcome addition to any DVD, the lack of extras here is particularly disturbing. A feature-length commentary by director Steve Kloves would have been incredibly warranted. While not necessarily a fascinating special feature, bios and filmographies for the cast and crew would have been a nice compendium to show how their careers have progressed since Flesh and Bone.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A far-fetched yet fascinating film, Flesh and Bone is overall a winner. The theatrical presentation has been faithfully reproduced on DVD, and fans of methodical thrillers should be quite pleased despite the lack of special features.


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