An entertaining, low-key Mafia picture that found a release after the film's stars gained in popularity, "Knockaround Guys" offers fine performances from excellent actors. Those expecting an action picture will be dissapointed, but the situations and drama still add tension and intensity. The film was written and directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who wrote 1998's "Rounders". This picture, while about different subject matter (that film was about poker players), this film does often have the same subdued, cool tone.
The film focuses on the lives of four sons (played by Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Seth Green and Andrew Davoli) of Brooklyn mobsters. They have all found it difficult to gain entry into the real world given their background, while their fathers see them as nothing much - after asking for more work, Matty (Pepper)'s father tells him, "You brought us these sandwiches. What else can you do?".
The kids are persistent, though - they keep pushing themselves as possibilities for jobs and eventually, find themselves with a gig: transporting a ton of cash - take a flight, bring it back. Simple -- or maybe not. With former cocaine addict Johnny Marbles (Green) as pilot and Matty supervising, things are fine until Johnny stops in a small Montana town for gas and hides the bag when he spots a set of cops and the town Sheriff (Tom Noonan) in the local airport.
Moments later, the money's gone and Marbles has to report back to home base that the simple task has been completely screwed up. Out flies Taylor Reese (Diesel), Chris Scarpa (Davoli) and Matty to find where in this small Montana town the cash has gone to. So starts the main part of the film, which is an interesting mix of mob drama, western, fish-out-of-water dark comedy and maybe a few other things, on top of all that.
While the film does have some noticable problems, it's certainly not as flawed as one might expect from a film that spent a little over a year on the shelf. The film does add elements of comedy on occasion, but the entire film is played with such seriousness that the comedy feels somewhat awkward amidst the dark tone. The ending doesn't work particularly well, either. Lastly, the 94 minute running time feels cut down - some additional scenes in the town could have filled out the movie and characters. While watching, I wondered what the Coen Brothers would have done with this film, as it seemed like something they might have been able to do more with.
The film also takes a while to get going, but certainly gets involving when the money falls into the wrong hands. It's at this point that the writer/directors finally up the tension, especially when Tom Noonan's evil sheriff gets thrown into the mix. Clint Mansell's fantastic guitar-driven score also adds energy and intensity to many scenes.
The performances are generally very good, too. Diesel and Pepper offer commanding performances, while a Hopper, Malkovich and a subdued Green offer fine support. This certainly isn't going to be considered with the best in any of the genres it attempts, but "Knockaround" certainly isn't bad, either: it's an involving drama with solid work from a fine cast.
VIDEO: New Line Home Video presents "Knockaround Guys" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation isn't quite up to New Line's usual standards, but it's awfully close, with only a few very slight faults. Sharpness and detail are solid, as the picture appeared consistently crisp and well-defined, with fine shadow detail.
The presentation's few flaws were very brief and scattered only in a handful of scenes. The print used often appeared in excellent condition, although there were a few moments here and there where a small mark or two appeared. Edge enhancement was also rarely an issue, as only slight amounts were visible in a scene or two. No compression artifacts were spotted and the transfer handled all the dark/low-light scenes well.
Colors were also well-handled, as the film's subdued color palette appeared accurate and crisp, with no smearing or other faults. Black level remained solid, as well, while flesh-tones looked natural. This is a very nice presentation from the studio.
SOUND: New Line presents "Knockaround Guys" in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. Surprisingly, this really wasn't a particularly aggressive soundtrack. Aside from the film's small number of action sequences later in the picture, there really aren't too many opportunities for consistent surround use. The film's score does get solid reinforcement from the rear speakers, but once it exits, the surrounds only kick in for slight ambience, at best. Audio quality is fine, as the score sounded rich and dynamic, while dialogue remained clear. Comparing the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks brought out few differences, aside from maybe a bit more depth and warmth to the score.
Commentary: The DVD offers a commentary from writer/directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien. This is a fairly enjoyable track, as the two first-time directors are able to provide quite a few interesting tidbits about their first experience helming a picture. When the track doesn't offer enjoyable production details, however, the two do occasionally fall back into narrating the story a bit too often.
Other than the commentary, there really isn't much in the way of supplements: 4 deleted scenes are offered with optional commentary from the writer/directors and trailers for "Dinner Rush", "A Man Apart" (an upcoming Vin Diesel theatrical release), "Knockaround Guys" and "Final Destination 2".
Final Thoughts: Faults aside, I found "Knockaround Guys" to be an enjoyable drama with a set of good performances. Those who are fans of the actors or the genre should at least consider a rental. New Line's DVD edition provides good audio/video quality and a few solid supplements.