For all of the goofy trilogies that Hollywood has put out through the last decade or so (some of them being obligation, some of them being creative choices), nobody has decided to go back and make more creative trilogies out of past films with shared actors. The Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner-Danny DeVito triad may be an underrated one. The three started with Romancing the Stone, with Douglas and Turner developing a memorable chemistry while DeVito played the comic relief. It continued with The Jewel of The Nile, the sequel to Stone. In The War of The Roses we see a darkly funny, entertaining third film with some interesting nooks and crannies in the underlying layers.
Michael Leeson (What Planet Are You From?) adapted the Warren Adler novel into a screenplay that DeVito directed. Douglas plays Oliver Rose, a young lawyer vacationing in a Cape Cod-esque setting when he runs into Barbara (Turner) at an art auction. The two hit it off instantly, falling in love, getting married and getting a house in the Washington D.C. suburbs. The marriage starts to show some cracks in the façade, even after they have had two kids, with Barbara becoming disenchanted, maybe with a life that she gave up in order to raise a family, who knows? One thing is for sure, she cannot stand lying down next to Oliver at night, and the two engage in a series of manipulations and schemes to hurt one another with increasingly dangerous results. DeVito appears in front of the camera and plays Oliver's lawyer, who tells the tale of the Roses to a prospective client (hey, that's Dan Castanaletta of The Simpsons!) who wants a divorce of his own.
From a guy whose last directorial effort was the funny and self-explanatory Throw Momma From The Train, you are bound to expect some laughs that perhaps you should not have, but do and enjoy without embarrassment. Some of the gags in Roses are seemingly designed by DeVito to one-up his previous film, and he manages to do it nicely, and within the context of anteing the stakes between Barbara and Oliver, they work surprisingly well in that context to boot. It helps that Douglas and Turner not only call on their own respective talents but their ability and comfort with one another to make things seem all the more believable.
It is this comfort which also helps sell what I think is the more important aspect of the relationship, the deterioration. Doing the physical things to harm one another is easy, but it is the unspoken anger towards one another, or the flat out passive aggression either (or in some cases both) show that helps make the dissolving relationship all the more convincing. Anyone can just throw a bunch of gags together designed for the main characters to hate one another, but it is how DeVito gets the things moving slowly and almost pragmatically that makes the thing work. DeVito's decision to include himself into the narrative of the story may seem a little self-indulgent, but it also helps resonate the depths that the Roses undertake in their battle, their...well, it becomes a war because it is.
While Stone saw the blossoming of the Douglas-Turner-DeVito collaboration and Jewel saw it stay relatively strong under the sun, Roses has the three see out this relationship the only way they can, and they do it in spectacular form and in comedic fashion. They may not work together again, but in films like The War of The Roses, seeing them at their best is good enough for me.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents The War of The Roses in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen look that is not too shabby. I had forgotten how the film had looked in the years since it had come out, but it is easy to see how the lighting and look of it contrasts and it goes on. The Roses start out looking idyllic in nicely shot exteriors and almost pristine interior ones, and as the bickering escalates, the darkness seems to serve as a character of sorts. The detail throughout looks accurate and fairly sharp, with film grain present during viewing. Flesh tones and colors are reproduced nicely and black levels in said darkness are strong and steady. Quite the nice little viewing experience overall.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround track really does not do a lot of sonic leg stretching per se, in fact the subwoofer engages on the animated disc menus before you get into the film. Once you start watching it, you'll notice a lack of robustness from said component, and the channel panning is scant, though the few moments it is there sounds clear and effective. Dialogue is consistent through the film and requires little in the way of adjustment, and the dialogue-heavy dark comedy sounds as good as it is likely to get.
From both a packaging and top/root menu perspective, the disc is another one of Fox' Filmmaker Signature series, with Hoffa being released concurrently. The extras from the old standard definition release are included, along with some new things. Two to be exact. The first is "The Music of The War of The Roses," (9:11) where DeVito and composer Thomas Newman discuss various scenes in the film and how the latter was able to record a new version of the Fox opening song (a song that coincidentally his father originally composes) in order to segue into his score for the film, along with some other process moments in the film. "Revisiting The War of The Roses" (28:55) is where DeVito and the film's producer (and old friend from the Taxi days) James L. Brooks talk about the film and even engage in some scene-specific moments for recollection. It serves as a decent second commentary track or sorts and the two have some nice discussion in the feature, and DeVito loves looking at the Blu-ray of the film. DeVito recalls an anecdote where a person came up to him as he was holding an armful of divorce books that is somewhat eerie in light of the recent news of his own separation, but it is a good piece to watch regardless.
The held over extras are not too shabby. DeVito's commentary touches upon the contributions by the various members of the cast and crew, and he remembers how he was able to bring the proverbial band back together for this one. He also goes over the visual look and intent of the film and some scenes in it, and points out some smaller things on screen, and tells us some other things going on in the film as they occur. While there are some silence gaps during viewing the film (and personally not as good a track as the Hoffa) one, it is a good track all the same. A montage of deleted scenes (23:22), about fourteen in total, cover a bit more in character development and some more marital pranking, but nothing of real consequence. Four trailers (5:56) and six TV spots (3:12) follow, along with a stills gallery and the shooting script.
The War of The Roses still packs enough punch (sometimes literally) to be a film worth viewing after more than two decades, and even if you are not married it is worth seeing for the comedy and the possible cautionary tale accompanying it. Technically the film looks good and there are enough supplements to whet your whistle. For those interested on the double-dip perspective I think the transfer and DeVito/Brooks extra seal the deal at an affordable price, and those who have not seen the film yet should with an eye towards buying. Here's hoping Fox continues the Filmmakers Signature Series in the future.