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MTI Home Video presents
"Why isn't he a suspect? Because he doesn't fit your car burglary theory?"
DVD ReviewThe real-life unsolved 1989 Oregon murder of Michael Francke, that state's Head of Corrections, is the basis for this low-budget 1998 film (actually shot in 1995) from one-time director Gill Dennis, which now gets the DVD treatment and capitalizes on a rather small supporting role by a pre-Gia Angelina Jolie. Jolie's giant-sized photo on the cover art (and corresponding top billing) is a bit misleading, and though her character figures prominently in a few short scenes late in the film, she is far from being one of the lead players.
Scott Plank (Holes) plays Kevin Francke, the brother of the murder victim, and after being dissatisfied with the way the authorities were handling the case, started up his own personal investigation into the crime, aided by John Nelson, a persistent television reporter played by Andrew Prine. As Kevin dug deeper into the murder, he attracted the ire of the local D.A., as well as the Oregon police, and when information surfaced that the dead man may have been on the verge of "cleaning house" in the corrections system, the groundwork for a coverup is quickly established. In a fact-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, Kevin develops a romantic relationship with Liz (Anna Gunn), a woman who shot and killed one of the prime suspects in the murder of Michael Francke.
The storytelling, as Francke's investigation slowly digs deeper into the truth, is done in a fairly straight forward manner, but it is certainly a bit unconventional in the way it unfolds, at least for a genre film like this. There are no shootouts, car chases, explosions, or sex scenes in Without Evidence, and instead there is just a lot of good old-fashioned dialogue, all presented in a very realistic manner by the actors, who deliver their lines with what amounts to an almost ad-libbed feel to them that make a lot of the conversations sound especially believable and natural. Once in a while the dialogue does get a little hokey (one character actually utters the old chestnut "You have no idea what you're getting into"), but Plank, Prine and Gunn are surprisingly solid and watchable in the leads. Jolie, for what it's worth, first shows up briefly about 51 minutes in, and as described "bad bitch" Jodie, gets to swear and shout and basically act like a wild-eyed strung out nut with black-painted fingernails. It's a small role, but Jolie is still enthralling to watch, and there are tiny hints of her Girl, Interrupted performance in her unhinged portrayal of Jodie.
The title of this one sounds like any one of a hundred "crime thrillers," and it should be noted that Gill Dennis appeared to have gone to some lengths to try and distance his film from the typical sex-and-violence filler of the genre. There is a documentary vibe to much of it, or at the very least a real-life, one-take feel to the whole thing that makes some of the unevenness of Without Evidence forgivable, as the performances seem particularly strong and effortless.
This isn't a great film, but it is a deceptively hypnotic one.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is far from the best I've ever seen, and comes in an approximately 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen print. Colors haven't held up well, and look rather faded and muted, while fleshtones often have a unnaturally pale hue to them. Plenty of specks, nicks and grain to go around to, in case you're interested.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo mix found here is pretty lifeless, and could easily be mistaken for a high grade mono track. Voices tend to clip during some louder passages, though in general the clarity of the dialogue is never a problem.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Without Evidence is without much in the way of evident extras, other than a theatrical trailer that uses footage from Unsolved Mysteries and the 900 number(!) to call with information about the murder of Michael Francke.
The disc is cut into 12 chapters, and does not feature any subtitle options.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsWithout Evidence kind of surprised me in the way that it ever so slowly sucked me in, and the film is full of easy, natural performances that it was a pleasant change from most overly dramatic "based on a true story" tales. The fervent determination of the late Scott Plank's Kevin Francke is nicely played, though the somewhat open-ended climax came as a something of a disappointment.
Angelina Jolie-philes, however, will have to settle for a just a few moments of Ms. Lara Croft, as she shows up late in the story, and then only for a few brief scenes (despite her prominence on the cover art).
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