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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Withnail and I: Criterion
Withnail and I: Criterion
Criterion
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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted July 3, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Director Bruce Robinson's darkly funny semi-autobiographical account of a couple of broke roommates, Withnail (Richard E. Grant in a terrific performance) and "I" Marwood (Paul McGann), who is forced to watch as his manic friend occasionally spins out of control. It's 1969 and the two take whatever booze, pills or other high that they can get ahold of as their small apartment quickly begins to disintegrate - certain spots in it though look like they've begun to take a life of their own.

Deciding to get away from it all, Withnail gets his Uncle Monty to lend him his cabin in the woods for a while. The two city folk head up to the country, but find that they're hardly able to deal with it. The whole episode reminded me a great deal of an episode of the British comedy "Absolutely Fabulous", where the two drug and alcohol addicted characters Patsy and Edina go on vacation and find themselves in a run-down house, ill-prepared to deal with such tasks as finding their own food.

Grant's wonderfully sharp, witty performance really gained him quite a bit of attention as he soon went on to do more major roles. McGann also does a fine job of playing the calmer of the two without fading into the background. The movie has a rather slow start, but as the two gradually lose it while spending time in the country, the picture picks up the pace. Robinson's "How To Get Ahead In Advertising" came out two years later and provided an equally entertaining character that Grant did a stellar job of portraying. "Withnail and I" though, is really a fine show from both leads, who play wasted almost as entertainingly as Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in "Ab Fab", although "Withnail" is certainly a bit darker than their adventures.

This is the uncut edition of the movie, although the only difference between the two editions seems to be a minute - 107 versus 108.


The DVD

VIDEO: Criterion is releasing two of director Bruce Robinson's pictures this week on DVD - "How To Get Ahead In Advertising" and "Withnail and I". Neither is presented in anamorphic widescreen and, as a result, both suffer from lackluster presentations, even though they're not very old. It's odd that Criterion has decided not to present these titles in anamorphic widescreen as I see no reason why they couldn't have presented these titles anamorphic. "Withnail" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and sharpness/detail varies quite a bit throughout the movie. Some of the brighter sequences appeared decently well-defined, but still rather soft. The darker/dimly lit sequences fared far less well, as they looked muddy and murky.

A very light amount of grain appeared consistently throughout the movie - it became slightly heavier during some of the dimly lit sequences, though. Print flaws appeared rather frequently during the movie and caused occasional irritation. Instances of grit, marks, scratches and speckles appeared often; although some stretches appeared free of such problems, they would often soon return. Edge enhancement and a couple of minor hints of pixelation also appeared, although didn't cause much distraction.

Colors appeared fair - they seemed rather light and bland and occasionally they looked a little bit smeared. "How To Get Ahead In Advertising" looked decent, but certainly not great. "Withnail and I", only a couple of years older and, from the looks of it, slightly less in terms of budget, is a mediocre effort from the usually reliable Criterion.

SOUND: "Withnail and I" is presented in mono and really doesn't provide anything beyond the dialogue. Decently recorded, the dialogue sounded rather sharp and edgy at times, but still was easily understood. The audio is nothing much to discuss.

MENUS:: The main menu is basic and non-animated, with the options written in a similar style as the poster art.

EXTRAS:: Trailer, Rare pre-production photos by Ralph Steadman, Limited-edition collectible poster of the original film art by Ralph Steadman.

UPDATED: There is also a documentary called "Withnail and Us" that originally appeared in 1999. I apologize for not noticing this during the original review, but the menu options were so hard to read that I didn't notice it. This is a 25 minute documentary that includes interviews with the cast and director Bruce McDonald as they discuss the history behind "Withnail and I" as well as some of the stories about what went on during production of the film.

Final Thoughts: "Withnail and I" is a mostly entertaining and well-performed comedy, but the movie isn't served well by Criterion's DVD, which presents it with audio and video quality that leaves quite a bit to be desired. Rent it.

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