Written and directed by Martyn Burke and based on the book Coup d'Etat: A Practical Handbook by renowned military strategist/historian/writer Edward N. Luttwak, Power Play is a fairly interesting and poignant tale that follows a group of military officers lead by a Colonel Narriman (David Hemmings). After basically keeping his mouth shut and following orders for the bulk of his military career, he finally decides that enough is enough and having had his fill of the current government's corruption decides to gather up some likeminded individuals, namely Colonel Zellar (Peter O'Toole) and literally take over the country.
As Narriman sets about gathering his compatriots he soon realizes that politics is a dirty game no matter how you play it and in order to make this happen he's going to have to align himself with some people he doesn't necessarily want to associate with. On top of that, he's quite certain the man in charge of the Secret Police, Blair (Donald Pleasance), has planted a spy in their midst as he has plans of his own.
While the characters aren't as fleshed out as they could be given the circumstances that we meet up with them under, this is otherwise quite a well written movie. Yes, there are times where the pacing is a bit off and yes, there are times where maybe the editing could have fixed that overall this is quite well put together. The cover art makes the film out to be a fairly standard looking war film but really it's probably closer to a political thriller in terms of its execution, if not its marketing plan. As such, those expecting lots of shoot outs and gun play will probably be disappointed but a large part of what makes this film as interesting as it is how it addresses dictatorship, totalitarianism and political power struggles and seems to offer up a viable solution as to how to deal with them when they go sour. Note that seems to is in italics, but elaborating more on that would spoil the ending and that's not going to happen here.
Of course, as interesting as the film's politics may be, they're not going to translate to the motion picture format if not placed in the right hands, right? Right. But look at the three cast members mentioned above - David Hemmings, Peter O'Toole and Donald Pleasance would individually be enough to make many of us sit up and pay attention but combine the three in the same film, throw in the interesting and intelligent script, and yeah, it almost seems like a sure thing. And it's close to it. The flaws mentioned in the paragraph above are quite minor in the grand scheme of things and Burke, who has spent the bulk of his career making quirky and often times politically charged documentary films rather than telling fictitious stories, shows a knack for getting the most out of his cast, his locations (the film was shot in Canada but it is generic enough in appearance to pass for Europe or America) and his script. Pleasance steals most of the scenes that he's in and fits into the Gestapo-esque role he's been cast in almost a little too well, providing a nice creepy slant to his character while Hemmings and O'Toole play more cerebral, morally conflicted types, particularly Hemmings who, towards the end of the movie, really shows some impressive range.
A sneaky, deliberately paced picture that takes its time getting going by really building a few different layers of the plot on top of one another, Power Play turns out to be one those films that seems surprisingly under appreciated. Given the A-list talent in front of the camera and the strength and unsettling timelessness of the script and its subject matter, it's a film that holds up very well not only by the standards of the era in which it was made but by the standards of the modern day as well.
NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS BASED OFF OF A TEST DISC THAT MAY OR MAY NOT REPRESENT FINISHED RETAIL PRODUCT.
Power Play arrives on DVD in a strong 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The colors have faded a bit in some scenes but the image, which is flagged for progressive scan playback, is otherwise pretty strong. Only mild print damage appears in the form of the odd speck here and there and there are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or noticeable edge enhancement. Some mild shimmering pops up here and there but aside from that there's little to complain about here in terms of authoring or source material problems, the movie looks pretty strong on this disc even if it shows some softness now and then.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix on this disc is pretty good even if it does, at times, show its age. Gun shots and explosions have some punch to them and the score is clear enough even if it won't blow your speakers. Dialogue is generally clean, clear and easy to follow and while a few scenes sound maybe just a little bit flat, there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about.
The main supplement on this disc is an audio commentary track with director Martyn Burke which details the history of the production as well as the cast and crew that worked on the film with him. It's a fairly active track and one that contains a good bit of information, from location shooting to staging some of the more impressive action scenes in the film. Burke has quite a good memory and seems to enjoy revisiting his work on the film. Complimenting the commentary track are two interviews, the first with Burke (15:22) that covers much of the same ground as Burke's commentary does, and the second with actor George Touliatos (3:24) that, while too brief, at least covers some different ground and discusses the making of the film from an actor's perspective.
Rounding out the extra features are a trailer for the film, trailers for a few other Scorpion Releasing releases (including The Farmer - hurry up already with this one!!!!), some nifty menu screens and chapter selection. All in all, a decent selection of extra features
Despite some problems with the film, it remains a pretty entertaining and even, at timers, fairly tense thriller. Scorpion Releasing have done a fine job with the audio and the video and the director's commentary and bonus interviews make for some welcome additions to this package. Power Play makes good use of its impressive cast and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.