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Company Business

Kino // PG-13 // October 13, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 5, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Cold War is over, and former CIA special ops agent Sam Boyd (Gene Hackman) is starting to wonder if his glory days have ended with it. Reduced to the kind of corporate espionage that a teenager with a computer terminal can do easier and more effectively, Boyd seems to be thinking about drinking the rest of his days away when he gets a surprise call from Elliot Jaffe (Kurtwood Smith) at the Pentagon, who offers him an unexpected assignment: escort Soviet spy Pyotr Ivanovich Grushenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) across the border along with $2 million in cash, in exchange for the return of an American POW. Boyd agrees, but on the day of the drop, it becomes clear that there's something fishy about the arrangement, resulting in a shootout that sends Boyd and Grushenko racing across Europe, $2m in tow, trying to figure out who's playing dirty and why.

Company Business -- as with many of the somewhat obscure MGM and 20th Century Fox catalog titles being put out by Kino -- is not a particularly good movie, but it is a memorably odd one, a trait which no doubt endears it to the fans who do enjoy it. It's a spy thriller that draws from real-world events, tackling the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War just months after it happened, yet the film's approach to this historic event is to frame a wacky buddy comedy around it, in which Hackman and Baryshnikov trade goofy one-liners (many of which are predicated on a deep national distrust that exists between the two men) in between attempts by both the US and Russian governments to kill them. Throughout, they try and figure out how to change the $2 million into something they can make off with, a nice 50-50 nest egg that both Boyd and Grushenko believe they're entitled to.

Business was written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also helmed Wrath of Khan, arguably the greatest Star Trek movie ever made. Anyone who's seen that picture's wonderful interpretation of space battles as old fashioned marine combat would likely get excited to imagine Meyer taking the reins of a spy picture, which provides a bigger chessboard on which he can move his many pieces. Unfortunately, Meyer had not finished writing Company Business when the film went into production, and it shows, with plot developments taking on a sort of half-baked, arbitrary quality. Boyd and Grushenko's escape route is anything but a nail-biter; at one point they ride bicycles to their next hideout, at another, the CIA reportedly has a house surrounded...except for the side on which Boyd leaps out a window and swims to safety. Boyd and Grushenko's level of trust and friendship with one another isn't schizophrenic, but their cat-and-mouse game is supremely weird, with Grushenko briefly disappearing in an airport bookstore just to prove he can, or their back-and-forth possession of a pistol that gives them the control in the relationship.

The film boasts a decent cast, but most of them are underutilized or appear slightly lost at sea. Hackman looks tired, slightly red-faced, which fits the character but also seems so authentic that it saps the movie of a bit of its energy. Baryshnikov is fine, but his line delivery is occasionally wooden, and he doesn't seem to be having a very good time. It's an adequate performance, not an invested one. Kurtwood Smith is left to bumble about, trying to figure out how to pin down his two targets, while Terry O'Quinn has a minor role as a key player whose wheelings and dealings are kind of vague and ill-defined. The one uncontested bright spot is Geraldine Danon as Natasha Grimaud, a young woman who Grushenko is sure will help them launder the $2 million into currency they can use. She finds a playful tone that somehow fits into the movie's weird spy / comedy soup, without leaning too far in either direction, which works even as the movie awkwardly allows Grushenko to just disappear for 15 or 20 minutes.

Company Business isn't a terrible movie. Even though it's strange, it's pleasant enough to watch, and at 98 minutes doesn't drag on past its welcome. The icing on the cake is a surprisingly economic finale at the Eiffel Tower, which plays out like Meyer realized he hadn't accomplished what he wanted to, and instead chose to get out of the way as soon as possible. Villains are disposed of without much resolution, concerning developments are essentially ignored, and the tone of it all doesn't quite fit what actually goes down. In some ways, it matches the rest of the movie perfectly.

The Blu-ray
Company Business arrives with painted artwork of Hackman brandishing a gun that is as over-the-top and awkwardly silly as the movie itself. The image my lead the viewer to believe the film is more of a serious action movie than it is, although the tagline on the back ("It's not the company you keep, it's the company that keeps you!") might clue people in onto the movie's goofier side. The single-disc release comes in non-eco Viva Elite Blu-ray case and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
As with most of Kino's Blu-ray presentations of MGM and 20th Century Fox catalog titles, Company Business looks okay in 1.85:1 1080p AVC high definition. This is probably a worthwhile upgrade for fans of the film, but on the whole it's a pretty dated, unremarkable HD transfer. Detail is occasionally impressive but generally a bit on the soft side. Dark sequences look middling, with hints of color distortion maybe peeking in through slightly blocky shadows that verge on crush. There are also a few moments in the film that just look rough, although this is likely inherent to whatever source material was used to create the transfer rather than a fault of the Blu-ray. Print damage is noticeable throughout, and color saturation varies greatly, with certain bold reds and blues popping in one scene and then the film taking on a drab, pallid appearance in another.

Sound is a decent DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that does well with the music and effects, including the occasional gunfight or explosion. Dialogue can sometimes vary in volume greatly, but this is audibly a quirk of the way it was recorded rather than some sort of mixing problem, as one of the more prominent examples of this coincides with the shot and its distance from the actors. No captions or subtitles are included on the disc.

The Extras
A few vintage extras are on tap. "Our Country 'Tis of We" (6:35) is your usual EPK, although it does stand out a little in that it actually ends with a significant portion of the movie's finale, including closing out on the movie's final shot. This is followed by selection of "Sound Bites" and a reel of B-roll footage (4:06) from which the featurette was created. Interview subjects include Gene Hackman (1:54), Mikhail Baryshnikov (2:26), Nicholas Meyer (1:31), and Steven-Charles Jaffe (1:42).

An original theatrical trailer for Company Business is also included, as well as a trailer for The Package, also starring Gene Hackman.

Company Business has all the elements for a good movie, but writer/director Nicholas Meyer can't quite put them together in a fully compelling manner, turning what ought to be a thrill-a-minute chase movie into a shambling, semi-comedic jaunt. There will be those who appreciate the movie's idiosyncratic nature, but any oddball pleasures on display are almost certainly unintentional. Kino, on the other hand, has produced an adequate Blu-ray, with a handful of extras and an adequate presentation. Rent it.

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