2000 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic enhanced / 99 min. / Street Date August 20, 2002 / $29.99
Starring Michael Caine, Martin Landau, Frances Barber, Frank Harper,
Andy Serkis, Claire Rushbrook, Danny Webb, Matthew Marsden
Cinematography Mike Molloy
Production Designer Austin Spriggs
Film Editor Ian Crafford
Original Music Paul Grabowsky
Written by Scott Cherry
Produced by Neil Bowman, Guy Collins, Geoffrey Reeve, Jim Reeve, Barry Townsley, Laura Townsley
Directed by John Irvin
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A tight, nervy thriller update of King Lear, with an aged but fierce Michael Caine fighting
in all directions to defend his criminal turf, Shiner isn't quite in the same league with
The Long Good Friday, but it's awfully close. Sold in America as a Get Carter- like revenge
tale, this would be a tragedy if we wanted the mean-spirited, selfish Billy to win. His meteoric
downfall is pretty spectacular viewing.
Billy 'Shiner' Simpson (Michael Caine) is prepping the biggest day of his crooked
life. A petty gangster and boxing promoter, he's got his son Eddie, known as 'Golden Boy'
(Matthew Marsden) fighting for a title with an American boxer managed by the savvy Frank
Spedding (Martin Landau). Simpson's managed to buy off enough people to get by the chagrined
boxing association, and has made television and merchandising deals with the idea of promoting
Eddie as a movie star in his post-championship life. But the cops are on his tail as an accessory
to the killing of a rival boxer, Spedding is openly calling him a phony and a thug, and his own daughters
are feuding. One is loyal, and the other, convinced Billy's over-mortgaged crook empire will
collapse if Eddie loses, is trying to save what she can, partially by aiding the cops against him.
On top of all this, Billy distrusts his own bodyguards, the tough Stoney (Frank Harper, and the
erratic Mel (Andy Serkis) - and poor Eddie has no confidence in his ability to win against his
With a dense script and a very active camera, Shiner is both involving and exciting.
Director John Irvin (The Dogs of War, Hamburger Hill) proves he
hasn't lost his touch, and the story is one well worth his talents. The unfoldment of Billy
Simpson's cheap empire fascinates because of all the interesting
characters he interacts with and dominates. Mel and Stoney fight like kids and aren't far removed
from irresponsible street toughs - in the first setpiece of the movie, they overturn the car of
a man who's had the impertinence to object when they go the wrong way down a one-way street.
Everything in Billy's life is predicated on his son winning this big fight. Billy's spent a fortune
and put himself into ridiculous debt to make it his breakthrough night, and desperately needs the profits from
television coverage and bets. Yet everything is a struggle, and everyone has to be coddled or coerced
to give him what he wants. A promotion associate who lines up a miserable bunch of losers for the
preliminary fights gets his arm broken because Billy's convinced he's pocketed his budget. Eddie's
manager is caught between a father who doesn't like bad news, and a son who really doesn't want to
fight, and can't live up to the hype around his name. One daughter backs him unreasonably, and
the other is too quick to give him up to the law - at one point she raids his house for appliances
and other pricey consumer goods, sensing they'll all be seized by creditors and the police in a
Martin Landau shows he's also not lost his ability to generate a forceful presensce, as the Yank
promoter who calls
Billy's bluff and harangues him with abuse, right to his face. Billy doesn't care about getting
respect from anyone, as long he wins the brass ring, and can bask in the success and its attendant
illusions. When everything looks sour, he fumbles through his (not paltry) selection of suits and
complains bitterly to Stoney about how 'Frank Spedding probably has a closet twice this size and
several houses and vacations in the Bahamas.' True to the classic gangster mold, for Billy it's all
about consumer goodies and conspicuous affluence, and anybody who gets in his way is in for trouble.
Naturally, all of Shiner Simpson's plans go straight to Hell, and he spends a third act avoiding the cops,
trying to figure out who has done him dirt, and lashing out violently at the associates he thinks he
can't trust any more. He promotes his own demise as brashly as he did his ascent, recklessly using
hoodlum tactics against those close to him. He's got lots of company, in pictures as diverse
as The Long Good Friday and the old Night and the City, where both Bob Hoskins and
Richard Widmark were more sympathetic characters. We certainly don't love 'Shiner' Simpson, but watching him
crash makes for crackling good Gangster fun. Shiner is quite a pleasant surprise.
Miramax's DVD of Shiner is a plainwrap disc featuring a spiffy anamorphic transfer and a
nice sound mix that really comes to life in the exciting big fight sequence. There are English
subs, that help us decipher the (Cockney?) tongue and negotiate the undeworld jargon, like 'manor'
(turf) and 'bottle' (nerve). There's no crime in a no-frills package, when the basic movie sounds
and looks as good as this.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 1, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson