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Point of Origin
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
For a made-for-TV movie (in this case, HBO), Newton Thomas Sigel's Point of Origin ain't half bad. Based on the true story of an arson investigator who allegedly started a great number of fires in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s, what could have been a typically earnest cable production is actually a stylish, fairly well told and constructed thriller.
Veteran investigator John Orr (Ray Liotta) is in the process of attempting to solve a series of deadly fires near Glendale. In the midst of his expert analysis, he's training a wet-behind-the-ears junior partner named Keith Lang (John Leguizamo). But soon, it becomes clear that the perpetrator is himself a fireman, and the noose begins to tighten—against all odds—around the neck of Orr. It's up to Lang to either clear his mentor's name or take him down.
Sigel uses a striking style to tell his story, involving selective color saturation and desaturation, as well as time-lapse. For a nice change of pace, the stylistic tricks are completely in service of the story and actually make the arson investigator's job quite fascinating. That being said, some of the film's other tricks—for example, the heavy make-up job that supposedly obscures Orr's face when he inhabits his firebug persona—never work quite as effectively as they should.
The performances are uniformly fine. Liotta is actually quite subdued, conveying a nice inner turmoil when necessary, and letting loose with the rage on occasion. Leguizamo is surprisingly effective in this dramatic role. Other standouts include a steely-eyed Colm Feore and a sultry Illeana Douglas.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
HBO Films presents Point of Origin in a pretty good anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 television broadcast. The greatest asset of this presentation is its level of detail, which reaches into backgrounds. Also, the print used is very clean and free of any kind of blemishes, However, the film has a hard, contrasty look that lends itself to grain—perhaps this was intentional. And I'm sure the frequently heavy saturation of color was intentional, as I learned that from the director commentary, but I'm not sure the bleeding was intentional. I also noticed some fairly heavy application of edge enhancement.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds clear and natural, and uses its surround channels effectively for nice ambient noise, music, and sound effects.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The only special feature of note is an Audio Commentary with Director Newton Thomas Sigel, which he starts by saying, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Although this is a fairly dry commentary with occasional dead spots, he spends a good deal of time talking about how the film's structure mirrors the job of the arson investigator, and about the subjective nature of memory, and about the alterations the screenwriter made from the true story. I was intrigued by how Sigel sees "the camera as an actor in the scene." He also talks about how some effects shots were accomplished. It's a good conversation.
You also get Cast & Crew biographies.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Point of Origin is a better-than-average HBO thriller that's at least worth a rental.