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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Monroe: Class of '76
Monroe: Class of '76
Image // Unrated // January 16, 2007
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted January 24, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Monroe: Class of '76 is an initially interesting, but ultimately too familiar British crime drama made for TV in 2005. Starring Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, Trainspotting) as Detective Inspector Tom Monroe, Monroe: Class of '76 starts off in a promising fashion, with its evocative, eerie depiction of a man committing suicide. But the story continues on in a dreary, somber tone, with little surprises left as the cliches start to pile up, leading to the obvious finale.

Pat Fisher (Stephen Mapes), tormented and guilty about the death of a fellow classmate back in 1976, as well as terrified by what he sees as a pattern of suspicious deaths for his other childhood friends, deliberately runs onto a busy highway and commits suicide by standing in front of a speeding truck. Leaving behind a tape recording of his paranoid ramblings, Fisher's death is written off as a simple suicide by a disturbed mind. Certainly Monroe's superior DS Pritchard (Tony Haygarth), as well as Tom's partner, Steven Grant (Daniel Mays) believe it to be an open and shut case, not worthy of further investigation. However, something about Fisher's tape, as well as some disturbing memorabilia about several crimes years ago, begin to nag at Monroe, who starts to believe that there may be a pattern to these random deaths.

Chief among the evidence that convinces Monroe to continue to dig is Fisher's elementary school class photo that has been marked, indicating three of the children dead. As well, a shadowy, nondescript image of a child has been marked, "Who was he?" On Fisher's confessional tape, he indicates that there were only 32 students in his class, not the 33 that are in the photo. Contacting fellow student Colin Somerville (Sean Gallagher), Monroe learns from the frightened man that he has been tormented over the years by a voice over the phone that says he will be the next to die. Somerville believes as well that the "accidental" deaths of the three students were no accidents, and that Aiden Thompson (Kevin French), a boy who remaining classmates describe as "different," is the killer. After all, Thompson had confessed to Colin that he had murdered the first victim on the list. However, after Colin nearly dies from a hit-and-run attempt, he tries to convince Monroe that perhaps the shadowy, ghostly figure in the class photo is the real murderer.

To tell any more of the plot, or discuss other characters of Monroe: Class of '76, would be to spoil it for potential viewers, but really, it wasn't very difficult to figure out the end of this promising, but ultimately predictable thriller. While certainly there was an effort to flesh out the cliched depiction of the emotionally spent police inspector Monroe, too much of the film consists of shots of Monroe, staring off into space, looking tortured and worried, while ominous music wells up in the background. Meanwhile, the viewer just wants to get on with it all, particularly after one becomes aware of the fact that nothing much new will happen. Carlyle, a ferociously talented Scottish actor, does a too-good job of underplaying the haunted Monroe. Compelling clues are thrown out about Monroe's background (his father made him read about crimes as a child to protect him - but it obviously scarred him; a former love left him for "good reasons" which are never detailed), but ultimately, little is finally known about Monroe simply because the filmmakers keep too much hidden, too much suggested but not explored, for us to care.

The performances in Monroe: Class of '76 are all quite good, particularly Gallagher as the freaked-out Colin, and Mays as Monroe's seemingly placid, unperturbed partner Steven. And the direction of Monroe: Class of '76 showed promise, as well. Director Ashley Pearce knows how to stage a creepy, disturbing shot, and the early sequences that intimate the death of the little girl are evocative and scary (and tastefully rendered, at least in this DVD cut). But far too much time is spent on repetitive scenes of Monroe silently, mysteriously wracking his brain, trying to figure out not only the source of the murders, but perhaps the source of his own torment (which, frustratingly, we're never allowed more than a peek at), while we the viewers eventually sigh and say, "Oh, just get on with it."

Not helping matters are cliched subplots and a cop-out ending that undercuts the potentially compelling denouement. Particularly annoying is a largely irrelevant subplot with Monroe talking with a dying serial killer who has taunted Monroe for years for the cop's failure to catch him. Warmed over like left-out sequences from Silence of the Lambs, these scenes portent perhaps something valuable to the rest of the story, but wind up unused and eventually forgotten by the viewer (perhaps they were tied in more with the British cut of the telemovie, which apparently was longer than this 137 minute DVD release). As for the finale, I won't ruin it for anyone who may want to catch Monroe: Class of '76, but let's just say fans of crime thrillers will see it coming a mile off, and they'll be at best, unimpressed.

The DVD:

The Video:
There were some compression problems with the 1.78:1 enhanced for 16x9 TVs, widescreen video image. Pixilation, as well as some blacks that didn't hold, marred an otherwise good looking film.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo mix was fine, but really, if DVD distributors want to make money off these British imports to America -- please include subtitles or at least a close-captioning option. There were many instances where I had to back up certain passages several times to understand Carlyle's almost impenetrable accent. You get used to it after the first ten or fifteen minutes, but captioning would have cleared that up immediately.

The Extras:
There's a trailer for Monroe: Class of '76 included on the disc.

Final Thoughts:
Monroe: Class of '76 is an initially interesting, but ultimately slight and uninvolving British TV thriller. Sporting good performances, and some evocative cinematography and direction, Monroe: Class of '76 still can't get past its all-too-familiar serial killer trappings. However, if you're a fan of Robert Carlyle, or you enjoy British TV crime dramas, you might rent Monroe: Class of '76. Just don't expect too much.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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