Directed by Mick Jackson from a script by James Hicks, 1990's Chattahoochee is based on the ‘true story' of Emmett Foley, played in the film by Gary Oldman. The film is set in the Florida of the late 1950's and it starts off by explaining to us how Foley fell into a deep depression after coming back from serving in the Korean War. His job prospects were terrible and he was living in poverty. So he decides to take some pretty drastic measures: go on a shooting spree in his neighborhood in hopes that the cops will kill him, an act that should, in turn, provide his wife Mae (Frances McDormand) with a good chunk of some much needed money. This doesn't go as planned and Foley is not killed but captured and subsequently shipped away to Chattahoochee, a prison that houses mentally ill inmates.
After he's admitted, Foley sort of slinks into more of a slump but soon starts to become more cognizant of what's happening around him. He takes notice of the terrible food, the dirty living conditions, the roach infested quarters and the fairly constant string of abuse at the hands of those in charge. He keeps his mouth shut after first but after befriending another inmate named Walker Benson (Dennis Hopper) and becoming encouraged by this, he starts writing things down and then sending letters to the higher ups on the outside. Of course, once the administration finds out he's doing this, his writing privileges are kyboshed but he finds a way around this by writing things down and sneaking them in between pages of the Bible he hands off to his sister Earlene (Pamela Reed) on her regular visits. Soon enough, Foley's efforts start to bear fruit. There are hearings and inquiries and committees formed and the old adage that "one man can make a difference" again proves true in the grand Hollywood tradition.
Chattahoochee is very well made. The locations are great with the hospital setting really setting the mood for what's to come. We really do feel for these inmates because the conditions under which they're incarcerated are so dire. The cameras do a fantastic job of capturing a pretty effective mood of destitution and despair and the plot moves along at a decent enough pace to keep us interested. At the same time, we know where all of this is going because based on a true story or not, we've seen this type of thing before (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest being a pretty solid example of the type of story told in this picture). As such, there isn't a whole lot of suspense here and things wind up more than just a little bit on the predictable side.
And that might be the reason that this movie isn't better known than it is these days, because aside from that, things shape up quite well. Aside from the aforementioned production values and camera work the performances are remarkably strong across the board. Gary Oldman makes an excellent lead, really giving his character some personality, enough so that his problems feel very real to us. The turmoil and emotional rollercoaster that follows it is well played and always believable on his part and he really turns in fine work here. Frances McDormand as his wife is also great and while both Hooper and Reed are underused, they too do a great job in the acting department. Supporting efforts from M. Emmett Walsh and Ned Beatty are also solid and enjoyable.
Yep, pretty much everything comes together here as you'd want it to. Chattahoochee is a very solid film. But we've been here before. This is definitely worth seeing though, more for the acting and great locations than the story's originality, but worth seeing nevertheless.The Blu-ray:
Chattahoochee arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in a 1.85.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Although some scenes do look a little soft and some scenes show heavier visible grain movement than others, that would appear to be the way that the movie was shot. Colors are reproduced rather well here but this is a fairly gritty looking movie that a somewhat industrial looking color scheme for much of its running time. Minor white specks do show up here and there but serious print damage isn't a problem. The image is free of compression artifacts and edge enhancement and overall provides a satisfyingly film-like viewing experience.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track on the disc is also fine. This is a pretty dialogue intensive film and the track on this disc gets the job done without any issues. There are no audible problems with any hiss or distortion, the levels are nicely balanced and the score sounds good. The performers are always easy to understand and some of the scenes that take place within the confines of the facility show decent depth and range.Extras:
Outside of a static menu offering chapter selection, there are no supplements on this disc.Final Thoughts:
Chattahoochee is a very well made film worth seeing for some solid performances, but don't expect to be taken on a trip you haven't taken before as the story is riddled with clichés and predictability. The Blu-ray release from Olive is a nice looking and sounding disc but light on extras. Rent it.