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New Line Home Cinema presents
Kansas City (1996)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: February 15, 2005

Stars: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte
Other Stars: Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi
Director: Robert Altman

MPAA Rating: R for (language, some violence, drug use)
Run Time: 01h:55m:22s
Release Date: February 15, 2005
UPC: 794043769924
Genre: crime

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

DVD Review

The venerable Robert Altman has been one of the most heralded American directors for the last 30-pluys years. Hitting the movie scene with early masterpieces like Nashville and Sisters, Altman has enjoyed filmmaking success along the lines of other greats like Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola. Through the years, the unforgettable films kept coming from Altman, with Atlantic City, the grossly underrated Popeye, Short Cuts, The Player, and Gosford Park among them. However, Altman, like Scorcese has never won the coveted Best Picture Oscar, with Gosford Park being his most recent shot.

Altman's films always offer up a cavalcade of eclectic characters and Kansas City is no exception. Altman's penchant for using an ensemble cast rather than just a couple of high-profile actors to center the film around has always set him apart from other directors. Arguably, his two most celebrated films, Nashville and the more recent Gosford Park, are all about the ensemble, with audiences seeing those films over and over to revel in the plights of the numerous characters and their individual stories. Kansas City is just as rich in characters, but is more akin to Nashville in that a major focus of the film is on the jazz musicians that were around every corner of the titular city circa 1934. Altman's love for jazz and the gangster genre makes this one of the director's most intimate films.

Despite all of the things it brings to the table, Kansas City is also one of Altman's weaker films in terms of overall plot and execution. With the effect all of the elegant staging and time-warps back to the '30s that the costumes and locations have on the viewer, the plot is plodding and, when all is said and done, far less interesting than his other films. Fortunately, the best parts are the live jazz performances. Altman brings his love of jazz to the screen with the same affection that Clint Eastwood did in the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. If you're a jazz lover, Kansas City is worth a rental for these performances alone.

The actors are astounding, with the always great Jennifer Jason Leigh delivering some of her best work as gangster moll Blondie O'Hara. Veteran Harry Belafonte is also stellar as a gangster called Seldom Seen, with nothing but money on his mind; Miranda Richardson, Dermot Mulroney, and Steve Buscemi shine as well.

Kansas City isn't a bad film, it just doesn't quite match up with the director's classic works. Setting aside the expectations that come with an Altman film, this is a much more enjoyable movie than half of the fare Hollywood puts out today. It's just that if you're going to spend a night with Kansas City, you might want to have Gosford Park or Nashville ready to roll after it for comparisons sake.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kansas City looks exceptional in its first DVD appearance. Colors are true, with amazingly accurate fleshtones throughout. The exceptional image detail really stands out when it comes to the fact that each and every pinstripe and seam in the gangsters' suits are easily visible and precise. The only problem is that some of the club sequences result in far too dark images. Just a bit more tightening of the black levels would have been a welcome sight.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Impressive audio was to be expected to some degree given the jazz-heavy soundtrack in Kansas City, but the inclusion of a DTS track was a huge surprise. Unfortunately, the DTS track doesn't do much to separate itself from the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Still, both of these tracks are stellar, with each instrument standing out on its own across all of the speakers during the jazz numbers. Bass is tight and aggressive, never drowning out the crisp dialogue or any other sound effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Proof, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The Rapture
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Robert Altman
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from the original theatrical trailer for Kansas City and trailers for a few other New Line titles, the main extra is a feature-length audio commentary by director Robert Altman. Like his excellent tracks on the Sisters and Short Cuts discs, Altman leaves no stone unturned, discussing his beloved Kansas City in exquisite detail. Never boring, Altman touches on as many aspects of the production as he can during a two-hour timeframe, throwing in story after story about the fine actors in the film.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Fans of original gangster dramas and jazz will want to seek out Kansas City as soon as possible. Just be warned that if you're a die-hard Robert Altman fan, you might want to look to another one of his films to get your Altman fix.


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