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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Barbarians at the Gate
Barbarians at the Gate
HBO // R // September 25, 2001
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted October 22, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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The 80's business boom was about money but even more than that it was about egos. Barbarians at the Gate is a perfect look at the personalities that drove - and still drive - American corporate greed. The 1993 film details F. Ross Johnson's attempt to acquire the company for which he was CEO: RJR Nabisco. This tobacco and cookie giant had hit a slow period without much growth in stock value and, with a proposed line of smokeless cigarettes starting to look like a stinker, Johnson (James Garner) decided that a leveraged buyout of the company was the best way to ensure its (and his) prosperity. What Johnson didn't count on was the self-serving meddling of the entire business world, particularly billionaire financier Henry Kravis (Jonathan Pryce) who took credit for the idea of a buyout. The title refers to one character's description of Kravis' buy-and-burn business tactics, an uncouth assortment of cost-cutting techniques and power-grabs wrapped in a slick $3000 dollar suit and a phalanx of lawyers.

The path of the movie is simple, even if the business dealings aren't. Johnson, not used to being told no, wants to run the company and own it as well. Kravis wants to own it more out of spite and out of a fear of being seen as out of the game. Finally, when the biggest corporate buyout to date does take place it practically makes everyone look bad.

The film never reaches for the lofty comedy-drama of HBO's similarly money-minded The Late Shift and the ending is a bit abrupt (afterall, this is a game where losing means only making millions instead of billions) but as an overview of the era and some of the unscrupulous, backstabbing practices, Barbarians at the Gate is purely blue chip.

VIDEO:
The widescreen anamorphic transfer is not too good. The picture is muddy and lacking in punch. The film looks older than its eight years.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is modest but effective. It is also available in 2.0 French and Spanish, with subtitles in those three languages as well. Unfortunately the loud score is one of the worst I've heard in a long time.

EXTRAS:
Some bios are included.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
As a primer for a kind of business dealing that most of us will never be party to, Barbarians at the Gate is great, even if it's not one of the most energetic DVD releases out there.

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