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DVD SAVANT

Shiner


Shiner
Miramax
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.

Synopsis:

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 Yank adversary.

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 few hours.

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, Shiner rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 1, 2002





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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