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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » We're No Angels (1989)
We're No Angels (1989)
Paramount // PG-13 // February 17, 2004
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted February 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Remakes are the bane of every movie fan's existence. When filmmakers decide to take an esteemed piece of filmmaking and repackage and represent it to a modern audience, they often end up doing such a revoltingly putrid job that it seems to not only reflect negatively upon the quality of the original, but also etches itself into public consciousness and supercedes the original in terms of cultural awareness. It's especially galling when a normally talented and prolific director ends up delivering a wretched piece of hackwork based on an existing film. Witness Jonathan Demme's unfortunate The Truth About Charlie, Gus Van Sant's vile Psycho, Warren Beatty's tepid Love Affair, and to minimal extents of badness, Cameron Crowe's ambitious but ultimately redundant Vanilla Sky and Gore Verbinski's effective but bloated The Ring.

And as an aside, don't throw those Ben-Hur or Maltese Falcon arguments at me! I consider a "film remake" to be a remake of a story that originated as a film. Both of the aforementioned were interpretations of pre-existing works from another medium - those stories originated as novels, not films. It would be like saying the ABC television miniseries of The Shining was a remake of Kubrick, or that Sci-Fi Channel's Dune miniseries was a Lynch remake.

It's my review, and I get to make the rules!

So this brings us to We're No Angels, acclaimed director Neil Jordan's 1989 remake of the beloved 1955 film starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the 1955 We're No Angels was a light-hearted Christmas film about three prison escapees who end up hiding out with a poor but good-natured family, pretending to be roofers. In the 1989 film, Robert Deniro and Sean Penn play two convicts who break out of a hellish prison and attempt to make their way to the Canadian border. Pursued by the police, the fugitives are mistaken for missing priests by a town local, inadvertently discovering the perfect cover. Seeking refuge within the local monastery -- just across the river from Canada -- the pair has to figure out a plan to convincingly impersonate a pair of holy men, evade the pursuing authorities, and escape across the border.

When it was released in December of 1989, We're No Angels pretty much flopped completely. The $20 million film opened poorly and ended its brief run with a paltry $10.5 million gross. While the film is deserving of its "flop" status from a financial point of view, the movie itself is actually moderately entertaining. The cast is first-rate, featuring the aforementioned Deniro and Penn as well as the considerable talents of Hoyt Axton, Bruno Kirby, Ray McAnally, Wallace Shawn, and John C. Reilly. Even Demi Moore acquits herself reasonably well as Deniro's love interest. The production design and cinematography are both top-notch, presenting some phenomenal camerawork as well as one of the most realistic-looking 1930s border towns ever committed to film.

We're No Angels is a comedy undercut by its darker elements. The film retains a grimy, dirty, and slightly desperate tone throughout. The dank realism in its setting and surroundings seems to run at odds with the film's inherent comedic nature. But in the end, the film does work. It may not be as successful an endeavor as it hoped to be, but We're No Angels presents a moderate amusing and entertaining tale. As a remake, the film assumes its own identity that, although not completely convincing and successful, manages to succeed more than it fails.

The DVD

Video:

We're No Angels is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing appreciation. Off the bat, I was noticeably impressed with the quality of the transfer. This is a film that is drenched in muddy browns, grays, and blacks, almost completely devoid of a brighter, splashier palette. With such a limited chromatic spread, a transfer can easily appear muddled, washed-out, and lifeless. We're No Angels demonstrates a refreshing amount of depth and liveliness. Contrast levels are surprisingly strong, with excellent range and separation from the deepest blacks, warmest browns, and brightest whites. The muted color scheme of the film is showed off with impressive richness and depth. The transfer was struck from a very clean print, resulting in an appearance blissfully minimal in marks, scratches, and wear. The only lacking areas were in fine detail and sharpness. There is some softness to the transfer, which detracts from the overall quality of the presentation, but this is the only flaw in an otherwise good looking presentation.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the overall quality is fine without being overly engaging or immersive. We're No Angels does not exactly cry out for an aggressive, enveloping audio delivery, so the soundtrack is quite successful in its delivery. Dialog sounds warm and natural without appearing shrill, clipped, or hissy. The orchestral score is well rendered, demonstrating fine dynamic range and sonic depth. Surround activity is minimal but effective, mainly used to highlight the score and add occasional background and ambient noise. LFE activity is also used sparingly but effectively. While the soundtrack does come more alive with the film's climactic ending sequence, overall I found that the film's quieter, simpler moments came across more effectively and natural sounding.

A Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is also included, and it seems slightly more balanced and realistic-sounding than the six-channel presentation. However, those who are looking for a more enveloping and engaging soundtrack may prefer the 5.1 channel.

Extras:

There are no extras on this DVD.

Final Thoughts

We're No Angels is a moderately enjoyable and beautiful-looking film that may not be the comedic success it sets out to be, but works more often than it doesn't. The presentation of the film is excellent, with a fine transfer and appropriate presentation of the soundtrack. The utter lack of extras on this disc prevent the DVD from getting anything higher than a "Rent It" rating, but if you're looking for some more unusual fare you might want to give We're No Angels a look-see.

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