Celebrated French director Louis Malle had plenty of career highlights during the last fifteen years of his career, including My Dinner with Andre (1981) and Au revoir, les enfants (1987). Yet right in the middle lies Alamo Bay (1985), a tepid slice of small-town racial friction that's all "social" and no "commentary". Ed Harris stars as Shang Pierce, a scruffy Texas fisherman who's angry at his town's recent influx of Vietnamese immigrants: he doesn't care for the way they talk, act, or compete with him in the water. Dinh (Ho Nguyen) is all smiles and wide-eyed wonder, hoping to own his own boat and live the American Dream. Stuck in the middle is Glory (Amy Madigan), Shang's high-school crush who operates the fishing business with her father Wally (Donald Moffat). Glory is open-minded and accepting of Dinh and his fellow Vietnamese workers, yet the aggressive Shang would just as well run them out of town at gunpoint. Or if that doesn't work, he could just gather his friends and a few Klansmen to help him get the job done.
There are few questions asked during Alamo Bay and fewer answers are given. That's not a compliment. Malle's film is incredibly flat and predictable during the bulk of its 100-minute lifespan, hoping to coast by on the coattails of documentary-lite realism and easy, villainous targets. Alamo Bay was indeed based on actual events that occurred on the Texas coast after the fall of Saigon in 1975...but this story doesn't translate well to the screen, offering up lots of scenery-cheweing moments, one-dimensional characters and a climax that feels more Hollywood than it ought to. That's not to say that portions of Alamo Bay don't work...and during your first viewing, you might even become invested in the story on a basic level. But there's very little to think about afterwards, so most won't even bother with a second viewing.
Most of Alamo Bay's limited success falls on our two leads, who return to the role of "adulterous couple" after their first pairing on 1984's Places in the Heart. Madigan, in particular, adds some depth to Glory, who comes across as one of the few level-headed and layered characters in the bunch. In contrast, Harris is boxed in by the limitations of his character, though he's at least given something of a motive for certain aspects of Shang's behavior. Both actors play exceptionally well off one another, though the original poster art laughably implied that the plot was fueled by passionate romance instead of racial hatred. Despite many of their strong scenes together, the negligable impact of Alamo Bay is largely due to each and every thankless role that languishes completely on the surface: most of the Texans are "good ol' boys" and the Vietnamese are simply faceless, innocent victims. "Based on true events" or not, the manipulative backdrop of one-sided terrorism doesn't make for particularly rewarding entertainment.
Despite its obvious limitations, Twilight Time has chosen to rescue Alamo Bay from VHS oblivion: this Blu-ray marks only its second format release since 1985, believe it or not. Die-hard fans will be pleased with the fantastic A/V treatment, though an expected lack of extras (and obviously, the high sticker price) limits any kind of recommendation to all but the most interested parties. This isn't essential cinema by any stretch, but I'm sure it has its fair share of followers and they'll definitely appreciate this release.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Sony's new remaster of Alamo Bay looks fantastic in 1080p. Image detail, black levels and color reproduction are uniformly strong, giving the film even more of a quasi-documentary atmosphere. A fine layer of film grain is also present from start to finish, with only the occasional night sequence offering anything less than a near-perfect image. Overall, this is a fantastic effort from Sony, and I'd imagine that any long-time fans of Alamo Bay will be thrilled beyond words.
DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
For obvious reasons, the DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track is limited but still impressive. Dialogue is clear and crisp, Ry Cooder's music sounds terrific and there are no excessive source blemishes to speak of. It's also worth noting that an optional Isolated Music Track is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, which gives fans of the soundtrack the benefit of a full stereo presentation. It's definitely worth listening to.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The clean, basic interface loads quickly and also features a helpful "resume" function. This release arrives in a standard keepcase with attractive disc and packaging artwork, as well as a Booklet
with notes by writer Julie Kirgo. Like other Twilight Time releases, the Blu-ray is unlocked for region-free playback.
Aside from the Isolated Music Track
mentioned above, we only get the original Theatrical Trailer
. This isn't surprising, given Twilight Time's track record, but it certainly doesn't help matters.
Sporadically entertainig but mostly forgettable, Louis Malle's Alamo Bay hasn't aged partcularly well. The flat, completely linear story is filled with largely one-dimensional characters, throwing us in the middle of a tense, heated social climate but ultimately saying very little about it. Ed Harris and long-time wife Amy Madigan add a measure of interest through their committed performances...but it's easy to guess what's around every corner, which cripples nearly all of the suspense, enjoyment and (most importantly) replay value. Nonetheless, Twilight Time's Blu-ray package should please established fans of the film, offering a sterling A/V presentation but little in the way of bonus features. Naturally, Alamo Bay's limited appeal and the Blu-ray's high price tag make this a clear "try before you buy" disc. Rent It, if at all possible.
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.