In 10 Words or Less
Four-color crime-fighting faithfully adapted to the screen
Loves: Visual spectacles
Likes: Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy
Dislikes: Al Pacino
Hates: The look of many of the bad guys
Dick Tracy has pretty much faded from the national consciousness, like most every other newspaper comic strip since Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side bid farewell to the funny pages. A relic today, it's mostly remembered for technology well ahead of its time and grotesque-looking bad guys, as well as for Warren Beatty's film adaptation, which, well before Zack Snyder's Watchmen and 300 or Frank Miller's The Spirit or Sin City, tried to make the journey from page to screen as short and direct a line as possible. The result is a movie that's often hard to take seriously, but is more entertaining that the comic strip ever was, a throwback to the days of whip-smart, if cliched, noir dialogue.
Set against a city that's basically a Chester Gould drawing come to life, Tracy (Beatty) is dealing with two main problems. His city is being overwhelmed by organized crime, led by Big Boy (Al Pacino) and his gang of misshapen gangsters, and thanks to rampant corruption, he seems to be the only man on the force capable of slowing them down. Meanwhile, on the homefront, things with his best gal Tess Trueheart (the delightful Glenne Headly) are on the rough side, as his never-ending war on crime is fought at the expense of their relationship. It only gets worse when she ends up watching over a smart-mouthed orphan Tracy meets on the beat. In a movie full of punches and gunfire, not much hits harder than hard-boiled Tess' sharply-delivered lines.
The story focuses on Tracy's attempts to take down Big Boy, and Big Boy's attempts to rid himself of Tracy's meddling, as well as the arrival of a shadowy figure working at cross purposes, but the presence of pop superstar Madonna may be as memorable as anything in the film. As Breathless Mahoney, the club singer who finds herself under the unwanted command of Big Boy, she's certainly not the finest actress, and despite giving voice to the Oscar-winning Stephen Sondheim song "Sooner or Later," she's not the best singer, however she's darn right for the part, delivering lines like "You don't know if you want to hit me or kiss me. I get a lot of that" with just the correct mix of moxie and self-pity. In another movie, she might be considered laughable, but in the world of Dick Tracy, she's just about perfect.
So much of what makes Dick Tracy so entertaining is the over-the-top spectacle of it all, from the uniquely-designed sets, illustrated to look like the comic strip, to the old-school dialogue to the all-star cast, which, in addition to Beatty and Pacino, includes Paul Sorvino, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, Catherine O'Hara and James Caan, though most of them are plying their trade behind a lot of freaky make-up. No one is as enjoyable as Pacino though, who gets the best lines as the main baddie, including what's essentially a monologue to Headly toward the end of the film that's probably among the best things Pacino's ever done. If you've never been a fan of Pacino's hammy overacting, he finally puts it to good use here, in a feature-length game of "Can You Top This?".
The film arrives in a two-disc set, one Blu-Ray and one DVD (which holds a digital copy, not a DVD version), packed in a standard-width, dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase (inside a slipcover that repeats the cover art.) The Blu-ray features a static menu design based on the disc's cover art, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is a fine representation of the film, offering up the all-important appropriate color (despite the intensity of the color in the costumes, you'll see no bleeding) and black levels, along with excellent fine detail (which lets you appreciate the impressive work on the matte-painting sets and the outstanding costumes, but which also reveals a bit too much of the special-effects make-up. On the other hand, Madonna's sheer outfits certainly seem more revealing than ever before.) Don't expect to be wowed by the sharpness of the image, with at least one scene looking nearly out of focus, and there are some jitters (most notably during the opening and closing titles) but overall, the film looks good for its age, free of any digital distractions.
Though the movie is better remembered for its visuals, Dick Tracy gives your receiver plenty to work with, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track brings gun battles, explosions and a great deal of music to the table, while the dialogue is clean and crisp (unless Mumbles is on-screen.) In addition to driving home the score and Sondheim's songs, the surrounds have some fun placement and movement in them, and the bass is strong throughout.
The only extras on the Blu-Ray are the previews for other films. Nothing related to Dick Tracey, not even the film's trailer is included. No one could sit down with Beatty to get a short interview?
Aside from that, there's a digital copy available on the DVD.
The Bottom Line
For as goofy as this movie can seem, thanks to the unique comic-style design and the over-the-top look of the bad guys, there's a genuine noir-style detective story being told, and the dialogue, especially when delivered by Pacino, is often hilarious, making the film a fun watch. This is the best the movie has looked and sounded, but it's far from perfect, and without any extras, it's probably a necessary purchase for hardcore fans only.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.