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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dangerous Game (Blu-ray)
Dangerous Game (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // November 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game is a hat trick of unpleasantness: 1) a plea for unearned sympathy that 2) excuses bad behavior 3) while trying to pretend it doesn't. Although the film clearly stems from some of Ferrara's own feelings about his art, there's also a sense that he believes because he's willing to confess his darkest secrets, that some degree of the viewer's sympathy is automatically warranted. Unfortunately, his film is simultaneously insightful enough to know why the behavior of his protagonist, film director Eddie Israel (Harvey Keitel) is wrong, but not wise enough to really come down hard on Eddie over it.

In addition to a successful directing career, Eddie also has a seemingly happy home life, with a loving wife Madlyn (played by Ferrara's then-wife Nancy Ferrara) and young son. His latest picture, the unsubtly-named Mother of Mirrors, is about a man suffering from addictions to drugs, alcohol, and womanizing, and his ongoing battle with his wife, who has found religion. He's landed a big star in the form of Sarah Jennings (Madonna), but had to battle for his less-popular leading man, Francis Burns (James Russo). Unfortunately, art quickly begins to imitate life as Francis starts struggling with his own inability to perform the scenes without getting wasted himself, and Eddie finds himself spending more and more time with Sarah.

The basic thesis of Dangerous Game is two parts. First, Eddie is unable to resist the desire to make films, to express himself through his art, to throw himself into the fray of a chaotic set, away from his home life, because that's where he feels most alive. Secondly, that the same chaos that starts to take a toll on him is the fuel that makes his art great, that gives him something to say. Because of these two things, Ferrara argues, the viewer ought to be able to, if not empathize with Eddie, at least sympathize with him -- gee, the guy can't help it. However, Mother of Mirrors is so aggressively one-sided, so rooted in that same mentality of "the guy can't help it", that it highlights that same basic flimsy selfishness in Dangerous Game. When Francis becomes abusive toward Sarah, lashing out on the set, Eddie gets angry at him less for being an egomaniac and an asshole, but more because he went to bat for Francis, and because his movie might be ruined because of it.

In Ferrara's defense, the fact that Dangerous Game repeatedly underlines how little attention Eddie pays to Sarah as opposed to Francis and how much he lets Francis get away with in the name of art could be read as an intentional criticism. Yet, even that read of the movie unravels in the face of how limited Ferrara's appreciation for the perspective of characters other than Eddie is. Key moments with Madlyn remain fixated on Eddie's feelings and Eddie's perspective, even though Madlyn is the one suffering. A particularly uncomfortable moment where Francis' character rapes Sarah's is completely undermined by what seems to be an indication that Sarah might be making up emotional suffering to manipulate Eddie into favoring her over Francis. If Dangerous Game were really interested in examining Eddie objectively, it would allow more characters to do that rather than repeatedly retreating to his point of view -- after a big blow-up, Ferrara follows Eddie as he flies back to the set, bangs a stewardess, and mopes around. It's peak self-examination as pity party: because Ferrara knows this is bad behavior, and he's willing to show it to us, we should respect him for bothering to pull the curtain back.

By the time Ferrara whips out some footage of Werner Herzog on the set of Fitzcarraldo to try and psychoanalyze (in another bid for sympathy) the frustrating and complicated nature of being a film director, the sense of Dangerous Game as a feature-length excuse rather than an apology is overwhelming. There are some moments of satisfaction to be had, including a surprisingly naturalistic performance by Madonna as Sarah, but Dangerous Game is a film that gives but never bothers to take, desperate to express something about its subjects that anyone who might find it relevant figured out long ago.

Note: Olive's Blu-ray contains both the theatrical R-rated and unrated cuts of the film. The differences between the two are pretty minor, amounting to only 27 seconds of additional footage, during a sex tape of the character Sarah plays in Mother of Mirrors, and during the scene where Francis' character rapes Sarah's.

The Blu-ray
Although it sounds like many people preferred when Olive was using original posters, I still tend to feel like they put a bit more effort into their artwork than major studios. Dangerous Game is an exception to that rule, which basically just puts the pictures of its stars over a black backdrop and throws an Instagram filter on it. You'd think the faces would at least be Photoshopped into a 35mm filmstrip like the images on the back cover. The one-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Dangerous Game is presented on Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 1080p AVC transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. In terms of Olive's efforts with MGM catalog titles, this one seems pretty much in the middle. The core image offers some high-definition degrees of detail in terms of skin texture and clarity, but grain is not finely resolved. Color appears slightly washed out or drab, limiting depth and dimension, and print damage is minor but constant. Throughout, there are sequences that were "shot on video", although they look far clearer and sharper than standard analog video footage would likely look, with the only notable differences being visible interlacing and heavier noise. Audio-wise, the picture wouldn't likely benefit much from a full 5.1 remix, as most of the film is dedicated to dialogue, with the range of the mix reserved for some general ambiance and the film's score. As with all Olive Blu-rays, no English captions or subtitles are provided.

The Extras
Only an original theatrical trailer, although, as mentioned in the body of the review, the disc contains both the R-rated and Unrated cuts of the film.

Dangerous Game is the kind of self-expression that probably seemed noble to Ferrara, but comes off as disappointingly myopic when seen by an outsider. It's possible that aspects of Dangerous Game are an attempt to address this problem, but Ferrara fails to expand on the characters that would actually be able to speak to his protagonist's true selfishness. Rent it.

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