The Jesse Stone TV-movies have been a fixture on CBS evenings for around a half-decade now. Personally, I'm shocked, the series is closing in on its seventh installment, not because of the quality, but because of the usually fickle attitude executives have to steady, competent programming. I'm neither familiar with the series of novels by Robert B. Parker, some of the films and the character is based on, nor with the series, aside from a hazy memory of the fourth film, "Sea Change" which I caught on TV a few years back.
The series, appears to have built a strong backbone of consistent character development. In this, the sixth, film, "No Remorse," I was surprised to find Chief Stone (Tom Selleck), removed from duty and deep in the bottle. However, not knowing the specifics of how Stone got to this point didn't hinder my enjoyment of the program. There are enough blatant as well as veiled references to past events, to give new viewers an idea of what has happened. Even having the vague recollection of the events in "Sea Change" I was able to tell Stone has grown as a character in the previous film, "Thin Ice." His drinking problem, now a major demon for the character was apparent in "Sea Change," but only as a "back of the mind" issue. Thankfully, Selleck avoids all the sloppy trappings of a TV series or TV movie and doesn't become the typical caricature of a drunk. He's not a stumbling unkempt mess, instead Selleck emotes physically with a sad distance in his facial expressions at times, and minor inflections in his voice to indicate he's self-medicating.
Selleck is the strongest aspect of "No Remorse." A tremendously underappreciated actor, despite having carved a permanent place in pop culture in the 1980s as Thomas Magnum, Selleck is on fire here. Stone is a complex man of principal and the little things Selleck brings to the role make the program all the more engaging and to my own surprise worth watching more than once (something I don't often find in TV movies). It's amazing sitting here, writing about a mystery film and realizing the mystery is only the platform for Selleck to further develop this character. Selleck has had a hand in the writing aspect of the shows for three of the six films (he's also writing the upcoming "Innocents Lost"), and fortunately hasn't turned anything into an ego parade.
Also fortunate, is the consistent direction of Robert Harmon, who has sat in the big chair from day one. Harmon, who was responsible for one of the most memorable thrillers of the past thirty years, "The Hitcher," stumbled for years, turning in two lackluster feature films ("Highwaymen" and "They"), before teaming up with Selleck in 2004 for "Countdown to D-Day" another fine, television film. Their partnership since appears to have been a match made in heaven and will hopefully continue for the foreseeable future.
Harmon's directorial work here is exceptionally strong, showcasing his fine cast and not distracting with fancy camera work. Initially I was upset with his somewhat pedestrian approach to filming scenes, but it wasn't until later in the film, when he does flex his muscles of style, that he was intentionally going for an old-school technique. Harmon does capture the quiet lakeside town of Paradise extremely well, but at the same time leaves the setting with a hint of uncertainty and mystery, qualities that surround the case set before Stone and the character's inner conflicts. There are no huge, heart-spilling scenes of revelation, instead we get quiet moments such as Jesse speaking his feelings about his dog and his purchasing of a cell phone as a means of reaching out for help from a friend. In fact, the biggest, straightforward revelation that we get is from Dr. Dix (William Devane), Stone's shrink, who lets Jesse know a huge secret, in the unspoken hope, Jesse doesn't make the same mistakes.
In terms of the mystery (or actually mysteries) Jesse is tasked with solving in "No Remorse," it's nothing special, your standard murder that ends up being more complicated than one might expect is the biggest case, while a violent robbery close to home remains second-string. Stone doesn't really kick his investigation into high gear, well until past the halfway point. When the story focuses on the investigation, it's well paced, with a revelation, here and there, but viewers are kept wondering how it will all wrap up, appropriately until the end of the film. The lighter approach to the mystery is a strong asset, as the film's chief suspect, played by William Sadler, is a stock character who borderlines on being the definition of cliché. The investigation does force Stone to bring some of his own issues to the table and this leads to the previously mentioned scene between Dix and Stone, which is one of the film's quiet highlights.
At the end of the day, "No Remorse" honestly knocked my socks off. I knew Tom Selleck wouldn't disappoint, but I didn't expect a program that makes such a quality emotional investment in its characters; I feel I've done fine performances from Stephen McHattie as Jesse's friend and fellow law enforcement professional and Kathy Baker, as deputy and Jesse's close confidant in this installment, an injustice. These two characters play an integral role in Jesse's life and his overcoming some of his issues, yet if I covered everything "No Remorse" did so well, I'd give away all the story.
I've always found mystery shows with a high replay value to be few and far in between. I'd have to go as far back as "The Rockford Files." Even character rich shows as "Monk" and "House" just feel a bit dull on repeat viewing, although "House" fares for the better because of Hugh Laurie's performance. Here, Tom Selleck's embodiment of Jesse Stone made me overlook the by-the-numbers mystery and feel like this is a DVD that would happily sit on my self; something I could watch again, just for the heart and soul of its characters. The only thing I hate, is now I have a compulsion to pick up the previous five films to see what I've missed and see the evolution of a character I hope will be remembered in the years to come.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports a medium level of detail, sharp colors, and is only plagued by so minor but noticeable digital noise. There's no artificial tinkering, so any limitations of the transfer are due solely to budgetary or artistic choices.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is consistently solid, featuring good separation between dialogue, effects, and score. Dialogue is well balanced, softening as characters move around a room, appropriately. The surrounds were used to much greater effect than one might expect, and the score thankfully dials itself down, only taking center stage during scene transitions English subtitles are included.
A flat-out, stellar TV-movie, which has better characterization than many feature films, "No Remorse" is a fine display of Tom Selleck's tremendous talents as an actor, as well as those of the solid ensemble cast. The DVD sports an above average technical presentation, but is barebones, which is a bit of a disappointment, as I'd love to have heard a commentary from Selleck and/or director Harmon. With one more Jesse Stone film on the way, viewers will get at least one last opportunity to see Tom Selleck work his magic. Hopefully his new regular series, "Blue Bloods" won't mean he'll abandon the character, as Jesse Stone is too rare to go away just yet. Highly Recommended.