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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Commitments (Collector's Edition)
The Commitments (Collector's Edition)
Fox // R // March 16, 2004
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted March 4, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie

Alan Parker's delightful The Commitments, based on the first book in a trilogy by author Roddy Doyle, is a remarkable movie, easily one of the best films released in 1991. There are dozens of reasons why this simple little tale of the rise and fall of a Dublin soul band manages to endear itself so breezily and effortlessly onto its fans. It could be the extensive and enjoyable music, the intimacy of the production, the veritas of its stark tone and gritty, realistic setting, or its lighthearted charm and abundance of sweet-natured (if unapologetically profanity-laced) comedy. Perhaps over-analysis does the film disfavor, because when you boil it down to its basic elements, The Commitments works because it is simply just a damn good movie.

With pristine clarity, most people who become would-be musicians/singers/garage-band devotees remember the exact moment when they decided to chase their musical endeavors with unabashed, carefree abandon. For many, it's one eminently catchy song that sets them on their way. For others, it's the extroverted desire to perform; to unleash their creative energies and performance chops upon a receptive audience. And then there's that large proportion of guys who are doing it mostly to chase tail. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

But for Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), an optimistic, unemployed working-class Dubliner whose mundane existence seems to be surrounded by a world with consistently deep gray skies and muddy streets, the prospect of starting a band is driven by a desire to escape the colorless ordinary, to be a step above the rest of the "tossers." Much to the skepticism of his Elvis-worshipping father (beautifully played by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Colm Meaney), Jimmy begins to assemble his band member by member. As manager of the group (newly christened "The Commitments"), Jimmy pulls together a mighty fine rhythm section: the band swells its rank to ten members of various musical talents. However, Jimmy has one stipulation: The Commitments are going to play nothing but soul. As he put it:

Soul is the music people understand. Sure it's basic and it's simple but it's something else because it's honest, that's it. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there's a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It grabs you by the bollocks and lifts you above the shite.

And so, The Commitments pull ahead with their dream to become the biggest, baddest soul band in Dublin. In the midst of their ranks are the various personalities which either make a band great or doom it to oblivion. Of course, Jimmy is the manager with the vision, but we also have Joey 'The Lips' Fagan (Johnny Murphy), an elder trumpeter who not only claims to have performed alongside the legends of rock and soul, but spends most of his time seducing the young ladies of the band: the pampered and gorgeous Angeline (Imelda Quirke), the hardworking, baby-raising Bernie (Bronagh Gallagher), and the immensely talented Natalie (Maria Doyle). We have the vulgar, self-obsessed lead singer Deco (Andrew Strong), whose vile personal habits and odious personality mask a powerfully amazing voice, the constantly harassed and put-upon drummer Billy (Dick Massey), the only occasionally electrocuted bassist Derek (Kenneth McCluskey), the sax-playing Dean  (Felim Gormley) who finds his jazz-leaning aspirations more satisfying than a rhythm role in the brass section, and the psychotic, annihilate-first-ask-questions-later Mickah (Dave Finnegan), the band's bouncer and eventual drummer. With that amount of talent and egocentrism going on, The Commitments often find themselves on the precipice, tottering between success and dissolution.

The tale of The Commitments is a fairly straightforward one, but the movie is exceptional in its storytelling. Director Alan Parker, who is clearly one of the most brilliant and underrated talents in the business, has always excelled in the fields of both intimate storytelling and musicals. Parker's gritty, hard-hitting and bleakly humorous stylings have added depth and potency to such films as Midnight Express, Birdy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning and the criminally overlooked Angela's Ashes. His ability to craftily integrate music with narrative (Parker is a master of the montage) has resulted in such beloved and renown films as Fame, Pink Floyd The Wall, and the brilliant Evita. With The Commitments, Parker has possibly crafted the quintessential "Alan Parker" film. The movie contains all of his flourishes and stylistic cues, while all the time simply telling an entertaining story with believable, relatable characters. And I haven't even begun to discuss the music, a host of soul/R&B covers that are too infectious to even begin to describe.

While the movie wasn't a breakaway hit in North America, its art-house success and positive word-of-mouth led to two soundtrack albums, various premieres around the country, and a network television special. A sequel was even discussed, but eventually put by the wayside. This is, perhaps, a very good thing. The Commitments is lightning in a bottle, a simple tale that eschews high concept for genuine entertainment.

The DVD

Fox has released The Commitments on DVD in a two-disc special edition.

Video:

The Commitments is (finally!) presented in its original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the video has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing pleasure. This is a great looking transfer throughout. I was especially impressed by its effective use of colors and contrasts. Alan Parker enjoys drenching his films in the types of shadows, gritty textures, and an overall earthy tone that tend to make many transfers appear murky and lifeless. This definitely isn't the case for The Commitments; the prevailing "grittiness" is wonderfully complemented by vibrant splashes of color, deep earth tones, strong black levels, and warm, natural flesh tones. Contrast levels are beautifully rendered, adding more depth and vibrancy to the image. Sharpness is pleasing, with only a handful of scenes demonstrating softness and exhibiting only a moderate degree of fine detail. The transfer was struck from an extremely clean print, resulting in a video presentation that lacks dirt, debris, or wear. There is no noticeable compression noise, pixellation, edge-enhancement, or haloing.

Audio:

I was so overjoyed that The Commitments was finally released in its original aspect ratio that I was completely unprepared for the joyous six-channel audio mix included on this DVD (there are also French and Spanish channels, both in Dolby Digital 2.0). The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack gives the presentation an expansive, engaging presence, especially in a movie that hinges so much upon both its music and its dialog. Dialog and vocal levels are bright, loud, and clean without seeming distorted, overbearing, or clipped. The soundtrack makes extended use of the expanded soundstage, with appropriate and sometimes aggressive utilization of the surrounds that engagingly highlights background and ambient noise, while also lending the musical presentation the right amount of potency. Frontstage spatiality is broad and enveloping, and LFE activity adds the entire affair the right amount of thundering bass.

Extras:

Disc One contains a feature-length audio commentary with director Alan Parker. Parker's delivery is slightly dry and monotone, and his commentary does contain some gaps, but overall he provides a host of interesting, behind-the-scenes information. His affection towards the film is very apparent, and fans of the film will quite enjoy it.

Disc Two contains the bulk of the supplements. First out of the gate is The Making of Alan Parker's Film: The Commitments, a twenty-two minute "behind-the-scenes" featurette that was filmed during the production of The Commitments. Most of the cast and crew, including Alan Parker and author Roddy Doyle, are interviewed throughout the piece, and presents a reasonably informative look at the creation of the film.

Bookending that feature is "The Commitments": Looking Back, an forty-seven minute retrospective that reunites the cast and crew, as they offer their thoughts on the making of the film. Most of the band as well as various members of the production crew are given the opportunity to reflect upon their experience with The Commitments. The documentary features a number of entertaining and often humorous takes on the project – the entire section devoted to Irish profanity is brilliant – and it feels a little exhausting in its running length, it still remains grandly entertaining.

Dublin Soul: The Working Class and Changing Face of Dublin runs for fifteen minutes, and provides a fascinating look into the social development and class strata of Dublin over the decades. The filmmakers used many of the working-class neighborhoods extensively throughout the film, giving the movie an extra level of depth and realism.

The aptly-titled Making-Of Featurette runs eight-minutes in length, and seems to be little more than a truncated and slightly edited version of the earlier, more substantive twenty-two minute feature. Rounding out the supplements is the "Treat Her Right" music video (with an introduction by Alan Parker and Robert Arkins), two Original Songs by Cast Members (We May Be Down (But We're Not Out) by Andrew Strong and Taking On The World by Robert Arkins), the film's theatrical trailer, six TV spots, four radio spots, and a still gallery consisting of nineteen photographs.

Final Thoughts

If you're already a fan of The Commitments, then you don't need conversion, as you are already aware of what a wonderful film it is. If you are a neophyte, with this DVD you can definitively find out what the entire buzz is about. In either case, after years of marred, fullframe releases, we can finally enjoy the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio. The presentation of the film cannot be faulted: both the audio and the video are beautifully delivered. However, it's the wealth of supplemental material that elevates this set. Between the commentary, over an hour and a half of documentaries, trailers, TV and radio spots, and more, this is an exhaustive set that will satiate the ravenous hunger of any Commitments fan. It's been thirteen years, but at long last Fox has delivered The Commitments done right.

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