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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » War (Blu-ray)
War (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // January 1, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted April 11, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Honestly, aside from seeing Jason Statham in the Guy Ritchie films, particularly Snatch, I've not really followed his career all that much, though I've noticed that with films like Transporter and Crank, he's developed a solid following of action and fighting films in his filmography, which is rare if your name isn't Chan or Lee and downright one in a million for a European. So when he is paired up with Jet Li, of Hero and Black Mask fame, at least I know what the primary subject matter is going to be. So in War, while you get your fair share of chop socky cinema, there's a fairly convincing story that blurs the lines of good and evil normally reserved for Hong Kong cinema.

War was written by first-timers Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley and directed by Philip G. Atwell, in his feature firm debut from a career primarily based in shooting music videos for Eminem, N.W.A. and 50 Cent. Li plays Rogue, a cold-blooded assassin who works closely with an Asian crime boss (John Lone, Year of the Dragon). Rogue brutally murders FBI Agent Tom Lone (Terry Chen, Snakes on a Plane) and his family, and Tom's partner Jack Crawford (Statham) is shaken to the core by the brutal attack. Flash forward three years, Jack still remains in a funk from his friend's death, and he finds himself in the hunt for Rogue again when it's determined that some murders of local Yakuza and Triad members have the similar undertones of Rogue's M.O., and he begins a bloodthirsty quest to avenge Tom's death.

For the viewer, there are some mixed messages when digesting War. For starters, the preliminary story is actually not too bad, and I certainly stuck around mentally and watched it, despite its abundance of rap music. However, there's a couple of things that happen in the third act that certainly make things different. The first one wasn't really much of a surprise, especially as the film unfolded. The second was silly enough that the film would have been better off it wasn't included. That's not to say that the film wasn't a write-off, but the events of the last ten minutes of War were unnecessary to the point of abject stupidity.

It does help that Statham and Li manage to tell the story with as much seriousness as they're capable of, so the predictable dialogue is tolerable. Lone does lend quite a bit of credibility to the material, but among the supporting cast is Luis Guzman (Out of Sight), Saul Rubinek (Dick) and Devon Aoki (Sin City), actors who have appeared in various productions big and small and do what they can with the roles that they're given, however with the dialogue and style that seems a little excessive, I wonder why it is they took the parts to begin with? Surely they can't be THAT much out of work!

At the end of the day, War is in the slightly unique position of being a little different than many of the normal action films these days, though the storytelling is limited by those responsible for it. It probably could have been better if some additional thought and care was given to the story, but as it stands I was left unimpressed.

The Blu-ray Disc:
Video:

We get an AVC MPEG-4 encoded 2.40:1 widescreen transfer for War which is quite the looker. Blacks are excellent and provide a solid contrast, and I enjoyed the level of detail in the image at any given time. I spotted freckles in Aoki's face, facial growth down to individual hairs, and you could almost spot the brand of cigarettes Jack smokes in the opening. All in all I liked how War looked, but having said that, that type of presentation doesn't appear to be consistent throughout the film, which drags down my impressions of its quality.

Sound:

With a PCM 7.1 surround track, War pounds and pumps all kind of bass through every speaker, surround activity is frequent and immersive and dialogue even sounds crystal clear for almost the entire picture, save for a couple of moments where it seemed soft, resulting in a little overcompensating, the only real problem with the disc. The ending sequence where Rogue confronts the rival crime boss and the car chase sequences I'd put up against any of the next-gen titles from the big studios. Lionsgate continues to impress with the technical qualities of their Blu-ray discs, and for a modestly budgeted production, this disc is a pleasant surprise.

Extras:

War is the second Blu-ray disc I've seen that's contained a BD-Live feature (the other being Saw IV, also from Lionsgate), and the extra is called "Yakuza Fighter." What you do after registering or logging on is select a series of ten moves, both offensive and defensive, and you can play against someone else (or the computer). The person who inflicts the most damage wins. It's cute to have, but I wouldn't break any blood vessels playing it constantly. Following that are several pieces that are also interactive, or at the very least differ from similar discs. A "Visual Commentary" from Atwell is basically a camera on Atwell as he provides the commentary to the film, and the picture pops up sporadically on the feature. He discusses the production and some of the challenges involved with it, but the problem is that it was like pulling teeth with him getting to open up a bit. But it is a decent track. Separately from that is a running piece called "The War Chest," which breaks down the big action sequences in the film by several different sections. The "Story" section discusses the intent that the story tries to convey, with interview perspectives from Atwell, Smith and Bradley. The "Style" section looks at the shot breakdown and editing choices with the film's editor Scott Richter, while the "Sound" section examines the score from composer Brian Tyler's point of view. Having said that, this section is more about the music and less from the sound effects point of view, which I was expecting. The "Stunt" section looks at rehearsals of and preparations for the fights, car chases and explosions in their respective areas, and includes interviews with the stunt coordinators and stars as they discuss pulling things together, while Atwell also talks about getting a scene together. The end scenes cover the visual effects. If you don't let this piece run over the feature, it's available as a standalone feature and lasts an hour and twelve minutes.

There's still more, with an audio trivia track called "The War Zone." The female voice includes still shots of various cast stills, introduces audio interviews with the cast, both main and supporting, and mentions a bit of trivia on relevant scenes from time to time, but it seemed to remind me a little bit of the old school Criterion commentaries you used to hear back in the day. From there, Bradley and Smith have their own commentary where they goof around and seem a little bit raw that the final product deviated from their original script, and they frequently discuss ideas for a sequel and even a trilogy, to which I say "God help us." The track is hardly informational. Shorter pieces complete the disc, including "Scoring War," a nine-minute piece that includes more thoughts from Tyler on how his process for the film went down. Two deleted scenes (2:11) follow that are forgettable, and a gag reel (2:03) is a little bit better, if for nothing else because of an outtake with the always awesome Guzman.

Final Thoughts:

Although there are a lot of extras on the disc, they are hardly incisive, and almost none of them feature any camera time on the stars or other cast members, and the production information seems to be limited to the director, writers and composer, where a lot more ground could have been covered. Technical love and attention aside, the film is decent for the first hour or so before falling down upon itself, the weight of the flimsy swerves not up to the scrutiny. Fans of the film will be encouraged to pick this one up for themselves, but if you're impartial to it either way, I'd probably consider putting this on your rental list for way down the road.

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