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Blue Blood

Koch Vision // Unrated // December 9, 2008
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted December 20, 2008 | E-mail the Author

The Film:

Whether you want to look at the Cummings Brothers' film under its more recognizable name If I Didn't Care (referencing the Ink Spots song played at the opening) or this bizarrely-referential Blue Blood (something that might tie onto the cutthroat nature of royal families in the Middle Ages), processing the significance behind the title will be the first move in a string of cranial gear cranks when absorbing their picture. Which can be a good thing, especially when you're about to dive into a maze-like murder mystery in the vein of ole' Alfred himself. Standing true to its moniker as a "Hitchcockian" noir, Blue Blood feeds off character nuance and plot convolution to build its minor empire of passion and deceit -- all in preparation for its demoralizing nature to collapse onto itself. And we can't wait for it to happen.

Reminiscent of a modern-day Double Indemnity, the Cummings' little slice of dark mystery starts where all film noirs start: with infatuation for a woman. Davis (Bill Sage), an out-of-work trophy husband, has absolutely no outside prospects for income aside from the allowance that his wife (Noelle Beck) offers. He pays the price for this comfort by suffering through a hellish, empty existence with little to no romantic connection with a brashly self-centered professional. Hence why he has tumbled into the arms of real estate dealer Hadley (Susan Misner), a woman somewhat struggling to make deals in her own little world. When the two decide that enough's enough with this cloak-and-dagger romancing, they soon realize that there's no way they could ultimately be together -- unless they found a way to make a sustainable chunk of change by all available means. Since their prospects are low and capital even lower, the two must turn to ... darker, more predetermined alternatives.

Blue Blood offers a pedestrian outlook on the murderous film noir, staying grounded in a dreary, banal vision of the Hamptons to create an atmosphere that feels inches away from home. Whether that helps or hinders is suspect, but it does open the floodgates for a more personal connection with the characters. Altogether, both Davis and Hadley build enough deceitful, empassioned malice between them to sucker us into their web, a bemused chemistry more fueled by desperation than devotion. Just like the roster of noirs, from Laura to Maltese Falcon, each and every key player in this little game has something about them that we loathe. Blend that malice for all the scheming characters with the hazy disposition of the Hamptons, and you've got the recipe for a melancholy slow-boiler.

But, aside from a clever plot kink near the center, Blue Blood doesn't really have all that many fresh cards to play that differ from the slew of noirs that you've seen over the years. From the wickedness of the scenario's catalyst (read: Davis' wife) to the happy couple's blitheness about death, everything feels so familiar. It also finds a way with flowing dialogue that infuses realism with sly tongue-and-cheek humor which, though not conducted in the same timing as its '40s and '50s counterparts, carries the same sort of essence. These are all two-edged compliments: these elements feel so familiar because they reflect all the positive qualities of those classics, all within a modernized, nickel-and-dime budget. Instead of trying to be edgy or sardonic like modern noirs like Brick and Dark City, it finds perfect comfort in centering itself smack dab in the middle of convention -- and all the better.

Strangely, the anchor to the Cummings' brothers film lies in its sole badge-wearing member of the moral police, both literally and figuratively -- Roy Schieder's cop character, Linus. We're introduced to him early on as a sage-like dog walker that bumps into Davis on the beach, a moment that wiggles in the deeper sides of both characters that would be rarely found as the murkiness of humanity clouds the story . Linus walks in similar boots to those of Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff Bell in No Country For Old Men, operating at an emotional center that implies a darker past unrevealed to our immediate exposure. But we're riding both in front and behind his eyesight here, knowing all the secrets that will come out of the woodwork before he even notices them as he waltzes around Davis' house, fiddling with light bulbs and the like during his investigation. It's a great parallel -- the one likable character out of the bunch that can be trusted also seems to be the one that's going to ruin all the fun.

Yet, you can't quite label Blue Blood's deconstruction as foreseeable or blueprint worthy, because it certainly has a few traditional tricks still left up its sleeve. It transforms quickly -- and effortlessly -- between murder mystery, botched romance drama, and slight police procedural with the blink of an eye. And all within a less than 80-minute time frame. Davis and Hadley's story is relatively simple when looked at from a bird's eye view, but it quickly grows in both emotional and situation-based complexity as their corrupt idyllic ploys fall to pieces. Blue Blood's a lot like playing a game of Jenga; there's enjoyment to be had in watching the removal of piece after piece from its framework, yet the real unsettling experience comes in those unnerving moments when it all appears like it's going to topple over. And, just like that leaning tower of blocks, you relish in watching it all fall to pieces.

The DVD:

Koch Vision presents Blue Blood in a traditional keepcase presentation, showing off some rather murky coverart that carries a romance novel type of feel about it. Personally, I prefer the fantastically simple poster art, but to each his own.

Video and Audio:

Blue Blood's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is surprisingly sharp, aside from the fact that it's interlaced and can be mildly prone to ghosting. The film's mood blends starkly cold exteriors, hollow yet warm interiors, and splashes of extra color and warmth in each -- like the outdoors scene where Davis and Linus have a heart to heart. Koch Vision's transfer handles the entire spectrum with plenty of elasticity, handling the full range of detail and color palettes quite well. It replicates the stripped-down, empty feeling of the film's visual style aptly.

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track accompanies the strong transfer, though it's a bit of the taste of the rear channels. Sure, there are a few instances where the material travels to the rear corners of the soundstage, but we're talking about a completely dialogue-driven film here. Audibility never becomes an issue, though, as the vocal clarity is top notch. It's a suitable audio treatment for the film, creating a strong sound environment that supports the material in the right ways.

Special Features:

Behind The Scenes Footage:
Take that title literally -- because that's exactly what you're getting. Instead of footage and interviews spliced into an edited, polished marketing gig, we're working with around 75 minutes of on-set footage that replicates the independent filmmaking spectrum to a pinpoint. There's little bits that look to be clipped out here and there, but in essence this is essentially a live feed from several of the film's locations -- notably the car crash scene and the great portion in the Hampton home when Davis and Hadley interact with "the wife".

Also included are an anamorphic Trailer that gives away way too much of the film, and a set of Interviews from Susan Misner, Noelle Beck, Bill Sage, and the Cummings brothers -- who really deserve a shot at a larger flick with a bigger budget.

Final Thoughts:

Fans of film noir -- both modern and classic -- will find plenty to grasp onto in the Cummings Brothers' Blue Blood. It carries itself with the same sort of posture that'll feel like a collage of classics, but brings them down to a grounded, pedestrian level in the current-era Hamptons. It exhibits cold, lustful execution of the noir genre, though it loses some of the return appeal once all the cards hit the table. The performances from Schieder, Sage, and Misner, though, make it a worthwhile slice of mystery cinema that echoes some of the qualities that made Alfred Hitchcock prevalent. Koch Vision's presentation is aptly executed as well, leaving this sharp-edged flick easily Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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