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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"It's amazing the way you get into things."
DVD ReviewThe cover art for Caught does the film a grave injustice. Sure, illicit sex plays a major role in this engrossing domestic drama, but not to the sleazy, gratuitous degree depicted above. Take it from me, there are no satin sheets, nobody copulates on a bearskin rug next to a roaring fire, and heavy breathing is kept to a minimum. Those expecting a sexy noir thriller (even though that's what's advertised on the box) will be bitterly disappointed, while fans of probing, multi-faceted drama will breeze right by this title in the video store. So Caught becomes a casualty, thanks to an idiotic DVD art director. And that's a real shame.
The film's director, Robert M. Young, has built a career specializing in gritty, human stories that examine primal emotions and how people embrace or resist them. Many are claustrophobic in nature, transpiring in cramped quarters or employing only a nucleus of actors to preserve intimacy. Extremities, Dominick and Eugene, One Trick Pony, Rich Kids—the movies cut across all genres, but share an unflagging attention to character and the dissection of complex relationships. As a result, Young's films creep under our skin, surreptitiously drawing viewers into the action and forcing us to care.
Caught is no exception. While fleeing from the Jersey City police, Nick (Arie Verveen), a homeless Irish drifter, takes refuge inside a hole-in-the-wall fish market run by Joe (Edward James Olmos) and Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso), an indifferent married couple. The two take the malnourished Nick under their wing and offer him a low-paying job as Joe's apprentice. Betty even suggests he shack up in their tenement apartment in the bedroom left vacant by their grown son Danny (Steven Schub), a Freddie Prinze wannabe pounding the Hollywood pavement. Over dinner, we learn of Joe's weak heart and notice Betty's interest in the scruffy, beefy Nick. Later, as her husband snores in bed, Betty stares at her aging face in the mirror as she applies wrinkle cream, and we sense her lack of fulfillment and thirst for passion.
Sound familiar? It's easy to draw parallels between this set-up and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and I fully expected the ensuing secret affair between Betty and Nick to result in a murder pact against Joe. But Caught is less obvious and far more complex. While Nick reawakens Betty's dormant sexuality, he also develops a close bond with Joe, sharing the type of father-son relationship Joe could never forge with Danny. Joe teaches Nick the tricks of his trade and shares his fantasy of leading a fisherman's fleet on the open sea. When a European businessman offers Joe a million-dollar buyout, Nick persuades him to accept it and pursue his dream. Yet all the while, Nick and Betty systematically deceive Joe, meeting for trysts in closets, showers and other quiet corners of the apartment.
Of course, something's got to give. Enter Danny, who unexpectedly returns home with his wife Amy (Bitty Schram) and baby son, upsetting the trio's delicate balance. Dismissed in Hollywood, Danny talks big about New York success, but his prospects are bleak. He resents Nick for kicking him off his family's pedestal, and suspects his mother's infidelity. Tensions mount, and as Nick becomes friendly with Amy, Danny loses his grip, forcing the family's tangled webs to unravel.
Writer Edward Pomerantz (who adapted the screenplay from his own novel) masterfully juggles his canvas of characters, allowing us to build a rapport with each one to better understand their motivations and actions. Like the outsider Nick, the script thrusts the audience into a Latino culture filled with unique customs, rules, and codes, and it's fascinating to watch Nick navigate this foreign minefield. The unfamiliar terrain adds suspense and a feeling of foreboding that greatly enhance the film.
The sexual hunger that consumes Betty and Nick is equally well portrayed without the aid of explicit nudity or lengthy interludes. The love scenes don't rely on simplistic animal desires, but hinge on conveying the more complicated nuances of need, longing and emotional satisfaction. Alonso and Verveen succeed brilliantly in transmitting these feelings and making their on-screen sex about more than orgasmic lust.
Acting across the board is first rate, but Alonso especially shines, turning in a natural, earthy performance that beautifully sets the film's tone. Olmos impresses as well, adding dimension and warmth to what could have been a stereotypical role, and he succeeds in engendering sympathy for a gruff, often-insensitive man. Verveen mumbles much of the time, but manages to evoke the smoldering sexuality necessary to attract Betty, while his vacant expressions transmit an appealing innocence of spirit. As the spoiled, surly Danny, Schub goes a bit overboard, but his creepy presence drives the film to its devastating climax.
Although the ending strikes a few sour notes, it can't erase the fact that Caught paints a riveting portrait of a dysfunctional family and shows how a stranger can change its fragile dynamics in a heartbeat. It also proves you can't judge a DVD by its cover.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Columbia hasn't lavished much attention on Caught, presenting the film in non-anamorphic widescreen and saddling it with a grainy, muted transfer. Shimmering is a constant source of annoyance and occurs when any remotely complicated pattern or busy set pieces appear on screen. Color saturation can be quite good at times and some scenes possess nice clarity, but on the whole this is a muddy, slipshod transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby stereo track exhibits occasional directionality across the front speakers, and the mellow jazz score provides subtle atmosphere, but this is standard audio at best. Although the actors mumble at times, most of the dialogue can be easily understood at moderate volume levels, and no distortion or defects could be detected.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beautiful Thing, Living in Oblivion, sex, lies and videotape
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: Here's where an audio commentary could really come in handy. Edward James Olmos has long been a proponent of integrating Latino actors into the Hollywood mainstream, so his perspective on this multi-ethnic production, and insights into Latino culture and society, would have been fascinating. Instead, all we get are three trailers and chapter stops.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsLook past the cover art and give Caught a try. This absorbing human drama offers a wealth of surprises, a quartet of stellar performances, and enough complexity to keep it swimming in the brain long after the closing credits roll. While the mediocre transfer, basic audio and paltry extras might preclude a purchase, Robert M. Young's finely crafted film is a recommended rental and well deserving of a late-night spin.
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