I didn't realize it until I was watching the movie, but Next of Kin is actually a style of action movie they don't seem to make anymore: one that focuses on building up the moral or ethical code of its hero rather than the scheme of the villain. The conflict that Patrick Swayze's Truman Gates faces is not a ticking time bomb or a mad terrorist, but the way his situation places himself between family values and the letter of the law, and although one could hardly call the movie a character study, it's interesting to realize how that emphasis on personal struggle has faded in favor of shootouts and fistfights.
Although Truman has worked in Chicago for years, his West Virginia upbringing is apparent. He strides around wearing a duster and a cowboy hat, never drawing his gun when it isn't necessary. He's an old-fashioned lawman in a bitter modern age, and that world rears up in his face when some mobsters gun down his troubled younger brother (Bill Paxton). Truman returns home for the funeral, where his family members, namely his older brother Briar (Liam Neeson) make it clear that they're going to take the law into their own hands if Truman doesn't do it first. With Briar lurking around Chicago, armed to the teeth, Truman has to track down the guilty parties and enough evidence to put them away before Briar takes them out.
Next of Kin clearly aspires to be a modern-day western, complete with a fight in a crowded bar, a shootout in a cemetery, and a chase involving a moving train (an elevated one). Sadly, director John Irvin seems reluctant to push that aspect of the film, leaving the overall experience lacking in personality. It may have been gimmicky to emphasize its genre roots any further, but that seems preferable to what the film actually is. At least the movie has Swayze, who is inspired cowboy casting, boasting a nice blend of stern and sweet that makes him a viable threat to villains and a good match with Helen Hunt, who has a nice role and chemistry with Swayze that never devolves into "damsel in distress." (I can't say the casting of Neeson as a down-home hillbilly type is quite as spot-on.)
The pacing of Next of Kin feels a little slow; along with a heavier dose of the western atmosphere, it could stand to pick up the pace a bit. It's nice to see Hunt's character playing her violin for Truman's relatives after the funeral, but is it necessary? On the other hand, it's actually pretty great the way the film gives equal time to John Isabella (Andreaas Katsulas), Joey Rossellini (Adam Baldwin) and Lawrence Isabella (Ben Stiller), who run the mob family suspected of pulling the trigger on Truman's brother. The script, by Michael Jenning, actually uses family as a nice thematic through-line for both sides of the conflict, making Next of Kin a little more than a cool-sounding title.
On the other hand, a big part of the way the film resolves the hero's internal conflict is problematic, mainly because Irvin seems to have the wrong perspective on some of Truman's decisions. Without giving too much away, Truman settles on a course of action during the last 30 minutes that feels wrong, and for all intents and purposes (despite an out), the film seems to agree with his thought process. There's a more interesting, compelling little movie somewhere inside this '80s action curio, but it's frequently muted in favor of something more traditional.
Although it's been polished and brightened, Next of Kin arrives on Blu-Ray with the same cover art that graced its snapper DVD release 14 years ago. with a little bit of resizing and some updated specs. The disc comes in an eco-case (the kind with holes punched in it), and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
It looks as if that same snapper release from 1998 was full-screen only, but this 1080p AVC transfer is in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and for a catalog title, it looks just fine. Warner and MGM/Fox are the best at taking quality HD transfers and presenting them without any unnatural tinkering, and that's what this looks like. Colors are vivid, contrast is on-point (for a film that takes place largely at night or in shady venues, this is crucial, not to mention one with that '80s/early '90s "action-movie haze"), and fine detail is as strong as one would expect from something shot on film. I did not notice any scratches or print damage, and best of all, Warner has not added the slightly annoying "teal and orange" filter they seem to have slapped on a ton of their Blu-Ray releases -- this is an earthy-looking film, heavy with brown and green, and both appear natural.
I'm sure there will be folks disappointed that this only includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track instead of a full 5.1 remix, but I'm not one of them. Thunderous gunshots, the tinkle of glass, the thick splat of "red paint" (I thought it was tomato sauce) in Helen Hunt's face, and more are all represented with a pleasing crispness. The track has enough aural clarity to notice some obvious ADR in the opening sequence. Dolby Digital 2.0, Castillian and Latin Mono, French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
None, not even a trailer.
With a catalog title like Next of Kin, I honestly can't imagine many people who aren't already fans of the movie are looking to purchase it. I wasn't blown away by the film itself, but this is a fine presentation of it, in OAR for what I believe is the first time, so in that sense it's recommended.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.