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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Jesse Stone: Night Passage
Jesse Stone: Night Passage
Sony Pictures // Unrated // June 12, 2007
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted May 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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I've only read a couple of the Spencer novels from best-selling mystery writer Robert B. Parker, so I'm not familiar with his Jesse Stone character. I missed the 2005 TV movie, Stone Cold, that first starred Tom Selleck as the alcoholic L.A. police officer who takes a job as sheriff in small town Paradise, Massachusetts. I understand it did quite well, though, with the public and critics, which obviously explains the two follow-up TV movies: Jesse Stone: Night Passage and Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise. Jesse Stone: Night Passage, from 2006, is a prequel to Stone Cold (and the first novel in the Parker series), so hopefully I was in business as far as not losing out on any nuances of the character and storylines. I was more than pleasantly surprised by this solid, no-frills made-for-TV movie.

Starting with a beautifully tempoed cross-country drive from Los Angeles to Massachusetts, we start to get a feel for the character of Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck). Melancholy to the point of depression perhaps, a drinker, and a straight shooter who doesn't fool himself concerning his personal drawbacks, Stone travels the anonymous roads of America with his bloodhound dog Boomer on the seat next to him, making his way to the last chance of his career. Forced out of his investigative job on the L.A. police force (because of his drinking), Stone has accepted a job as sheriff in the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts. Considering the problems in his personal and professional life, sleepy Paradise is about the only thing that Stone can handle at this point.

Of course, Stone's situation is known to his boss, banker and head of the Town Council, Hasty Hardaway (Saul Rubinek). Stone is precisely what he's looking for, a "loser" who he can handle. The current sheriff, Lou Carson (Mike Starr), has been forced out of his job by the corrupt Hardaway, who fears that he can't handle Carson any longer. But Hardaway is in for a surprise, because Stone, despite being drunk during his perfunctory interview, is a much stronger, more savvy, and distressingly independent prescence than Hardaway expected. This is brought home forcefully for Hardaway when Stone takes it upon himself to personally discipline a local wife beater, Jo Genest (Stephen Baldwin). Stone quickly learns that Genest is more than just a local punk; he's tied in with the mob - and with Hardaway - and when Lou Carson winds up dead just days after his retirement, Stone must patiently unravel the mystery before he's the next victim.

Jesse Stone: Night Passage surprised me with its cool, laid-back, laconic construction and direction. Directed by pro Robert Harmon, who has a number of excellent films to his credit (including the marvelously evocative The Hitcher, and TV movies Giotti and Ike: Countdown to D-Day), keeps Jesse Stone: Night Passage in a deliberate, methodical, and meditative groove, ticking off his dramatic scenes like a well-measured metronome. There's a real feeling of a professional "B" flick at work here - but not in the demeaning way in which that term is misunderstood today. Jesse Stone: Night Passage is the opposite of schlock; this is a "B" programmer in the manner of films like He Walked by Night or The Narrow Margin: professional, tightly organized with little if any narrative fat, and a cold, clean approach in the direction and the acting that's refreshing in this world of 100 million dollar special effects spent on .98 cents stories.

Jesse Stone: Night Passage isn't necessarily surprising in its actual mystery; the killer is revealed early, and the denouement is familiar. What does please is the sustained atmosphere that Harmon and screenwriter Tom Epperson (who wrote the equally clean and compact film noir One False Move) manage, a downbeat, hard-boiled, yet surprisingly compassionate take on the stereotypical hard-assed alcoholic detective character. Selleck, who've I've always found to be a better actor than he's generally given credit for, is letter-perfect for this kind of role. The extreme handsomeness of his youth has given way to...still more handsomeness, but now it's an older, craggy, Clark Gable look, and with it comes an authority, an assurance and confidence that perfectly suits the Jesse Stone character. His acting here is pared down to the absolute basics, but his choices are always correct. It's a marvelous performance, and without it, Jesse Stone: Night Passage would drift away into pointless genre work. The other actors are equally good (particularly Viola Davis as Deputy Molly Crane), and the cinematography by David Gribble rivals anything I've seen on the big screen this year. A hypnotic score by Jeff Beal, and tight, sharp editing by Chris Peppe, round out the excellent tech credits. Jesse Stone: Night Passage, all mood and shadows and emotional recriminations, may not rock you like other slam-bang actioners, but it will catch your attention, gently, seductively, drawing you into its steady, professional rhythm.

The DVD:

The Video:
Mastered in Hi-Def, the anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 video image for Jesse Stone: Night Passage is flawless, with a super-sharp focus and absolutely no transfer issues that I could spot. Colors are rich and deep and natural.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 stereo mix is up to the job, providing a strong, clear track, with some nice effects with ambient sound. Audio dub tracks in 5.1 are also available in French, Portuguese, and Thai (the French dub sounds the most Selleck-y). Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai. Close-captioning is also available.

The Extras:
There are no extras for Jesse Stone: Night Passage.

Final Thoughts:
Clean, professional direction by Robert Harmon, and a steady drumbeat of melancholy, regret and guilt essayed by Tom Selleck, help Jesse Stone: Night Passage achieve a palpable atmosphere of dread for this familiar tale of small-town corruption and murder. Selleck is perfect as the alcoholic detective Jesse Stone, and Jesse Stone: Night Passage plays like those entertaining programmers that Hollywood used to effortlessly turn out. I highly recommend the TV movie Jesse Stone: Night Passage.


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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