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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Romeo Is Bleeding: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Romeo Is Bleeding: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 21, 2016 | E-mail the Author

An overlooked but entertaining blip in Gary Oldman's filmography, 1993's Romeo is Bleeding fizzled out between the popular Bram Stoker's Dracula and Leon: The Professional. Thematically, it's got more in common with the latter: Oldman portrays New York cop Jack Grimaldi, who's only slightly less vile than Leon's Norman Stansfield. He's got a one-sided marriage to Natalie (Annabella Sciorra), a doting mistress Sheri (Juliette Lewis), and ties to mob boss Don Falcone (Roy Scheider) that have resulted in $350,000 of payoff money buried in his backyard. But he's not completely heartless: not only does Jack show hints of regret, he even cried during The Sound of Music once.

Jack's selfish, restless nature reveals itself at almost every turn, especially since he makes no real attempts to change until long after he's in over his head. The catalyst for Jack's well-earned undoing is one Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), a seductive mob assassin who's transported by Jack to a safe house with predicable results. It doesn't take long for her to literally leave our anti-hero with his pants down, ramping up the tension early and establishing Mona as a major threat to just about anyone who crosses her path. Romeo is Bleeding paints the formidable femme fatale one stroke away from a female Terminator: she's almost always one step ahead, cheats death multiple times, and toys with her male prey, wearing a smile on her face and little else. It's a bold tactic for an extremely bold movie: one that goes so far over the top at times that it's difficult to fathom if we're meant to take everything seriously.

Yet Oldman, Olin, the supporting cast, and director Peter Medak aren't here to crack many jokes, which makes Romeo is Bleeding a close cousin to pulpy, neo-noir efforts like Sin City (whose source material predates Romeo is Bleeding by two years). But really, you could substitute almost any classic noir as a template for the film's twisting plot and downbeat atmosphere, even without its hard-nosed narration and jazzy score. Like Sin City, there's just more sex and violence to remind us how deep Jack's rabbit hole really goes, especially since he's in league with two imposing forces (Mona and Don Falcone) that actually make him slightly sympathetic in comparison. Not surprisingly, things don't work out for Jack in the end: the lesser of three evils prevails but just barely, left to stew in his own juices as a bitter blend of karmic justice and full-circle flashback. It's a wild and entertaining ride, to be sure...but not one without its fair share of bumps along the way, and one you probably won't revisit on a regular basis.

Still, there's enough here to warrant another look at this critical and commercial misfire. The world of 1993 was likely turned off by the film's more graphic events and characters, which have long since been one-upped on network TV and the big screen countless times over. That doesn't make Romeo is Bleeding any less ugly on several occasions, it just makes it easier to see what the film offers behind all that shock value. Twilight Time's new Blu-ray aims to overtake MGM's 2002 DVD, serving up a fairly solid A/V presentation but little in the way of bonus features.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Romeo is Bleeding looks good on Blu-ray with mild reservations. This 1080p transfer is very clean with occasionally strong textures, consistent color saturation, a relatively high bitrate (the film essentially gets a BD-50 all to itself), and no flagrant signs of edge enhancement or other digital eyesores. With very few exceptions, any standard flaws here (contrast issues in low light, occasional moments of softness) are most likely part of the source material and aren't necessarily distracting. What is distracting, however, is the telecine wobble that's evident from start to finish: it doesn't exactly make static shots look like The Bourne Supremacy, but it's enough to knock off at least a solid point. That said, there's still a lot to like here: this Blu-ray easily surpasses MGM's 2002 DVD, and I'd imagine that die-hard fans will be glad for the opportunity to own it in high definition.

DISCLAIMER: The images featured in this review are promotional in nature and do not represent this title's source image.

Though limited to 2.0 audio like the original DVD (and its source material, of course), the lossless audio presentation of Romeo is Bleeding fares a little better despite its modest ambitions. Dialogue and sound effects are generally clean and well-balanced, with no obvious signs of damage. It also seems to be mixed with home theater setups in mind, ensuring that you won't have to constantly keep your hand on the remote between action scenes and dialogue-driven moments. Low frequency effects even rear their head on several occasions, especially when trouble lurks right around the corner. Channel separation is occasionally strong and opens up surprisingly well at times, even if some of Mark Isham's score and the background effects might've benefited from a tasteful 5.1 remix (not that I'm complaining, of course). Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature, which is very much appreciated.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a clear keepcase with two-sided artwork and a nice Booklet featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by TT regular Julie Kirgo. Traditional bonus features are limited to an Isolated Score Track (lossless 2.0, with occasional effects) and the film's laughably bad Trailer.

Final Thoughts

More than two decades later, is the critically and commercially lukewarm Romeo is Bleeding worth a revisit? The film's pretzel-twisted plot features no shortage of over-the-top surprises, layers of sleaze, two wonderfully committed performances by Gary Oldman and Lena Olin, plus a handful of well-filled supporting roles. There are more than enough ingredients here for an entertaining time at the movies...yet there's a vague emptiness just below the surface that makes Romeo is Bleeding the kind of experience you won't want to revisit all that often. For that reason and others, it will likely appeal more to nostalgic die-hard fans than create a legion of new ones. Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a mixed bag, serving up a decent A/V presentation and almost nothing in the way of extras. $30 is a high price for what's essentially a movie-only disc with narrow appeal, though I'd imagine the film's most rabid fans will gladly shell out for an upgrade. Mildly Recommended overall, but new fans should definitely rent this one first.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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