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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Boys from Brazil
The Boys from Brazil
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // April 7, 2009
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jason Bailey | posted March 30, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


The Boys From Brazil presents the reviewer with something of a conundrum. It centers around the gradual revealing of an unspeakably fiendish (and to be candid, slightly ridiculous) plot; it's slowly discovered by our protagonist and hinted at, in coded language, by the villains. The full-on reveal comes at the 92-minute mark, carefully constructed and delivered.



So the evil scheme is clearly not supposed to be known at the outset of the picture, though it has become fairly common movie knowledge in the thirty-plus years since the film's release. But is that any excuse for the total spoiler in the box copy for Lionsgate's new DVD re-release? Their description of the movie runs something like three sentences, but they manage to spill the beans entirely. It severely hinders the movie for the first-time viewer; we're waiting forever for the people on-screen to figure out what we already know.



I'll do my best to preserve the film's surprises here, in the hopes that you can view it with a cleaner slate. The story involves the evil scheming of a group of neo-Nazi sympathizers, led by notorious war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck). Their evil-doings are first sniffed out by Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg), who brings the group to the attention of famed Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier). What we know from the outset is that the group is assassinating a seemingly-random collection of 65-year-old civil servants from all over the world. Their ultimate motivation is known only to Mengele and his colleague Eduard Seibert (James Mason), but is gradually uncovered by Lieberman as he travels the world and attempts to find the thread between the murdered men, and why they would be of interest to the Nazis.



It's something of a quickie exploitation movie premise (They Saved Hitler's Brain leaps to mind), though it is given an A-list pedigree. Director Franklin J. Schaffner helmed Patton, Papillon, and the original Planet of the Apes; his direction is solid and workmanlike (if occasionally peppered by too many goofy fast-zooms). He orchestrates plenty of creepy touches and some fine, suspenseful sequences, particularly Kohler's late-night phone call to Lieberman as Mengele and his henchmen close in, and a climactic sequence where Mengele takes up the assassin's gun himself and meets his match against a growling racist (John Dehner) and his army of fierce Dobermans.



Other sequences are patently ridiculous--I'm thinking specifically of the wildly overwrought formal ball (which resembles something of a Nazi prom), a sequence which concludes with Academy Award-winner Peck screeching "TRAITOR!" at another man, slamming him into a buffet table, and croaking "Shut up, you ugly bitch," at the sap's poor wife.



Occasional unfortunate moments like that aside, Peck is actually pretty good here, solid and menacing in a rare villainous turn, while Mason brings a healthy amount of his usual gravitas to the picture. Olivier overdoes it a little (as he was so wont to do at this point in his career), but it's still a tremendously entertaining performance, and his final confrontation with Peck is a little clumsy but still potent. Uta Hagen is also terrific in a brief but memorable one-scene performance, and there are a host of other fine character actors in brief roles (including Batman's Alfred, Michael Gough; G√ľnter Meisner from Willy Wonka; and the always-welcome Denholm Elliot). On the other end of the scale, we have a painfully bad performance from Guttenberg; suffice it to say that the future Police Academy anchor doesn't really hold the screen against Olivier. It's an awful piece of overacting, reminiscent of the lead in a bad junior high play.



The DVD


Video:


The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 image is less than stellar--somewhat faded, quite soft, and victim of occasional dirt and scratches. On the other hand, contrast is fair throughout, with nice, deep blacks and no compression artifacts. I'd be surprised if this is the same transfer as last year's region-free Blu-ray disc; those looking for an above-average video presentation might be better-served to seek that one out.



Audio:


The film's original monaural track is preserved here, and is frankly quite thin, with some muddiness and frequent audibility issues (which aren't helped by the sometimes-impenetrable German accents). A full-blown 5.1 remix may not have been in the cards for this one, but a bit of a tune-up and perhaps a bump to 2.0 could have better showcased Jerry Goldsmith's splendid, ominous score.



Extras:


Very little in the way of bonus features, which were all apparently ported over from Artisan's previous 1999 release. We get text-only Cast and Crew bios and filmographies and Production Notes, with the film's Trailers hidden on the last page of those notes. They're a bit of kick, however--Trailer 1 (2:46) has a wonderfully typical late-70s trailer voice-over ("We cannot tell you who the boys from Brazil are... only that they are not science fiction!"), while Trailer 2 (2:50) is a bit more restrained. Both trailers preserve the plot secrets that the box cannot.



Final Thoughts:

The Boys From Brazil is plenty flawed, with its over-the-top plotting and (occasionally) acting leading to some unintentional guffaws and eye-rolling. But in its own, strange way, it's a compelling and satisfying picture, stirring up a distinguished cast and a globe-trotting narrative into a dynamic, effective potboiler.

Jason lives in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU.

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