the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

The Razor's Edge (1984)

"This isn't the old Mr. Sunshine."- Larry Darrell (Bill Murray)

Stars: Bill Murray, Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, Denholm Elliott
Other Stars: James Keach, Brian Doyle-Murray, Serge Feuillard
Director: John Byrum

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (war violence, brief nudity, language, drug use)
Run Time: 02h:09m:01s
Release Date: 2002-08-20
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C+B-B D+


DVD Review

There's an old notion often bandied about that while dramatic actors often find comedy quite difficult, comedians can accomplish dramatic performances with relative ease. With his intensely personal project The Razor's Edge (for which he co-wrote the screenplay), Bill Murray proves the falsity of such old notions.

Larry Darrell (Bill Murray), together with his friend Gray Maturin (James Keach), serves in World War I as an ambulance driver. Shocked by what he saw during the war, he hesitates following through on his plans for settling down with Isabel (Catherine Hicks) and getting a job with her father's factory. Instead he goes back to France to read and live in a garret, in an attempt to find himself. Eventually his path leads him to India and mysticism, and he returns to find Gray and Isabel married and his friend Sophie (Theresa Russell) turned to drugs and prostitution. Against the backdrop of the 1920s and the 1930s, the four friends live out their own private psychodramas of love and hatred, joy and pain.

Unfortunately for the project, the weakest link is Murray himself. Part of the problem is that as he has demonstrated in films before and since, he can essentially do one character: Bill Murray. While this injects Somerset Maugham's hero with some humor and life that is sorely lacking in the source novel, it also makes Larry's quest for self-realization seem smarmy and insincere at its heart. His performance does nothing to dispel this preconception. Some of the supporting performances are, however, notable, such as brother Brian Doyle-Murray's turn as Piedmont, the cynical and bitter leader of the squadron of ambulance drivers, is excellent and one of the few male parts that has some vividness to it. Theresa Russell is as usual excellent, but the script lets her down significantly.

One problem with the script is that the female characters are almost extraneous for the first third or so, and aren't really given any depth or character early on. This makes the confrontation between Isabel and Sophie at the climax ring hollow; we hardly know these women, and though they're obviously going at it hard, the viewer is not inclined to care much about the resolution. While it eventually does have devastating consequences, this confrontation could have been immensely better had it been properly set up. Larry's sojourn to India, although a big selling point of the film, is almost glossed over, as if the director has no idea really what enlightenment Larry might have obtained in the east. He apparently learns some party tricks of Eastern mysticism, but that's about as clear as things get. The script also falls apart again at the end, with an extremely feeble resolution; Jack Nitzsche's score valiantly sweeps up over it, but not even that can save the deadening thump of a conclusion.

For a longer film, the pacing isn't bad, but the direction is quite workmanlike. The camera never does much of anything interesting, paralleling the drab portrayal of life even in war, in passion and in the search for self. One can see where an exceptional movie might have been made out of the parts here, but this isn't it.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The widescreen anamorphic picture is a bit on the soft side, without sharp delineation of detail. Color is quite good, and shadow detail reasonably clear. While the source print is in excellent condition, there are annoying hairs that protrude into the screen and waggle about distractingly from time to time. Apparently the telecine operator kept checking out for coffee and a smoke when this was being transferred.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 4.0 soundtrack has excellent definition and precisely placed sound. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the music has fine depth and fullness. Hiss and noise are negligible. While the war sequences aren't demo material, they do the job well enough without giving enormous bass response.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Seven Years in Tibet, Gandhi
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:14m:34s

Extras Review: Not much here for extras. There's an anamorphic 1.85:1 trailer for the feature, as well as nonanamorphic widescreen trailers for two pictures related to Eastern thought. Chaptering is the standard 28 stops used by Columbia. While there are subtitles, for some reason they are disabled from being accessed on the fly without going back to the main menu.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

A misguided and poorly scripted effort at convincing us that Bill Murray could be a serious actor; although there are some positives, it's not worth more than a rental.

Mark Zimmer 2002-10-07