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Lions Gate presents
In the Shadows (2001)

"Sometimes you have to bend the rules in life or you gain nothing."
- Eric O'Byrne (Matthew Modine)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: July 03, 2002

Stars: Matthew Modine, Joey Lauren Adams, James Caan
Other Stars: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lillo Brancato, Jr.
Director: Ric Roman Waugh

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:44m:57s
Release Date: May 21, 2002
UPC: 658149797925
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C+B+A D

DVD Review

In the Shadows is a frustrating cinematic experience where every positive attribute is offset by an equally negative element. It has all the style of a major motion picture, but ultimately this straight-to-video release feels like nothing more than a television movie of the week. The interesting story of a hit man zapped by a thunderbolt of conscience is severely weakened by sloppy and lethargic performances. The film offers several stunning action sequences executed with style and flair, yet it does not avoid many of the clichés that often belittle the action genre. What we are left with is a neutral and mundane experience.

Matthew Modine plays Eric O'Byrne, a Mafia hit man whose moral sense is starting to put a damper on his career. O'Byrne is sent to Florida to execute Lance Huston, a Hollywood stunt coordinator thought to be responsible for the murder of a young Mafia wise guy. As Eric draws closer to Huston, he finds himself yearning to leave the violent world of killing and enter the equally dangerous profession of motion picture stuntman. His attraction to the obligatory action film female, who just so happens to be Huston's daughter, Clarissa (Joey Lauren Adams), also fuels his desire to leave the mob family behind.

First time writer/director Ric Roman Waugh has used his extensive experience as a stunt coordinator to great effect. He knows implicitly how to shoot stunt sequences in a way that achieves maximum results. The camera does not merely follow the stunts, it sneaks directly into the heart of the action. Waugh has also done his homework when it comes to the art of filmmaking and has avoided many rookie mistakes. He has written a competent script to drive the story rather than relying on nonstop action. There are no moments of artificial humor nor an over-abundance of slow motion shots to diminish the film's credibility. On the surface, this is a solid piece of work created by a talented filmmaker.

Unfortunately, Waugh cannot see the forest through the trees. He has an inherent knack for how to execute individual elements of filmmaking, but little idea on how to approach the sum of its parts. The result is a film that feels random and disjointed. This is exemplified through a dreadful montage sequence that shows Eric completing his stunt training and falling in love with Clarissa, all through a convenient combination of images set to music. This kind of lackadaisical approach feels like a strained effort to tie together loose ends in lieu of more intelligent storytelling.

The film's biggest downfall is the acting. All of the performers emote as if they want nothing more than to get back into their trailers and take a nap. Matthew Modine and Joey Lauren Adams are unexplicably terrible; their romance may possibly be the most boring relationship ever depicted on film. Oscar®-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. has been severely miscast in this film. He does the best he can with his role, but is never able to find the right notes to play this underwritten character. I cannot entirely blame the poor performances on indolent actors, however. I get the sense that Waugh does not know how to effectively guide them. Without solid direction, the actors appear as if they are constantly struggling to connect with their characters. The only actor able to rise above this predicament is the legendary James Caan, who once again displays an instinctive ability to immerse himself within a role.

Even though In the Shadows is more polished than many low budget action pictures, it never truly satisfies. Ric Roman Waugh shows a genuine understanding of filmmaking, but has not yet figured out how to assemble the big picture. He may just have a promising career if he continues to follow his instincts and learn from his mistakes.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image transfer is quite impressive. The overall aesthetic is clear and clean with few transfer-related deficiencies. Colors are often intentionally muted, appearing almost monochromatic in several scenes. Otherwise, the use of color is bold and vibrant when necessary. While there are many attributes to the picture, black level is the most notable, displaying a deep and rich presence as seen on many high budget, reference quality transfers. Though incredibly dark, these dimly lit scenes always exhibit excellent shadow detail. White level appears intentionally hot and overblown in daylight scenes, adding a heavy contrast to the nighttime scenes. The most discernable problem is the irritating amount of grain evident in numerous scenes. This distraction, along with minor pixelization, mars what is otherwise a fantastic visual experience.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: I was blown away by the explosive nature of the 5.1 soundtrack. Surround use is highly aggressive with both music and sound effects seamlessly blending through all six channels. Split surrounds are utilized more frequently than I ever imagined from an obscure film. The sounds of rain, wind, thunder, and whizzing gunshots are all tastefully spread throughout the soundstage. Unfortunately, panning through the rear channels occasionally sounds contrived. The low end bellows with stunning depth for both the musical score and the numerous explosions, which nearly rattled my fillings. Overall fidelity is good, offering natural sounding dialogue and tasteful sound effects editing. While not as clean as many higher budget action soundtracks, this 5.1 mix is impressively engaging.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring American Psycho II, Lantana
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:27m:09s

Extras Review: The only special feature is the film's trailer, presented in full frame. While Lion's Gate typically nestles the feature trailers within their elusive Lion's Gate Home Entertainment icon, the trailer for In the Shadows is easily accessible. It is puzzling, however, that the Lion's Gate Home Entertainment icon is more hidden than usual. If found, the viewer will be treated to trailers for American Psycho II and Lantana.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

In the Shadows is an equally entertaining and frustrating experience. While I cannot recommend the film, the 5.1 audio is a great workout for any home theater system. The soundtrack alone makes this film worthy of a rental.


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