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January Man, The

Kino // R // August 11, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted July 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author

The cold air of a new January has set in, and there's a panic among the citizens of New York City. A serial killer has been stalking the city's women, strangling a victim for each of the last 11 months, and the last victim spent her final evening with Bernadette Flynn (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), daughter of mayor Eamon Flynn (Rod Steiger). With tragedy striking so close to home, Mayor Flynn puts some pressure on police commissioner Frank Starkey (Harvey Keitel) to make good with his brother, Nick (Kevin Kline). Two years earlier, eccentric Nick was one of the city's best detectives, until a scandal about cops on the take targeted Nick as the fall guy. Reluctantly, he comes back onto the force to assist with the case, where his fuming former captain Vincent Alcoa (Danny Aiello), and, more importantly, his old flame Christine (Susan Sarandon) -- now Frank's wife -- are waiting to stir up the past.

Despite a screenplay by celebrated playwright John Patrick Shanley (writer of Doubt and Joe Versus the Volcano) and an excellent ensemble cast (which also includes Alan Rickman as Nick's painter assistant Ed), The January Man is a movie in search of a tone. Shanley is clearly playing with the DNA of Sherlock Holmes in crafting an arrogant and unstable yet brilliant detective, but he also wants the film to be a comedy, possibly even a romantic one, an endeavor which continually crashes into the plot about 11 murdered women. Not only is it emotionally jarring to jump from a horrible strangling to Kevin Kline having his office painted with parrot pictures, but the transition is also suspiciously choppy, as if the movie was also test-screened to death before it finally hit theaters.

Right from the beginning, the film struggles with how to approach its material. In the opening scene, the killer claims his 11th victim, following which the movie takes a nearly 50-minute break from the mystery. Instead, the film eats up screen time alluding to the backstory that sent Nick from the police department into the fire department, and caused Nick and Christine's relationship to end. In theory, this is material the audience should be interested in because Nick is the protagonist, but so much is made of his skills as a detective that it feels like a mistake to try and tell us about his personal life before we actually see him do his job, especially with the possibility that other women could die serving as the story's stakes. Worse, Nick's attitude toward Frank and Christine is bitter. Although our first glimpse of Nick is a fairly ridiculous rescue of a young girl from a burning building, complete with him flying out of a window, cradling the body, ending with a careful roll on the pavement right into some last-minute CPR, our first real sense of who he is comes from him cooking Christine a dinner she doesn't want to eat and accusing her of getting him fired.

Once Christine is out of the way, then Nick sets about...moving onto someone else. Although he tails Bernadette with the intent of asking her questions about her night with the 11th victim, he pushes all that murder nonsense aside to sleep with her. Only after she's tucked safely away inside his apartment does he finally start to work on the case. Sadly, this is where the movie puts the last nail in its own coffin: Nick's investigation is pure hokum, relying mostly on pure luck (like a passing shipping truck) and bizarre leaps of logic (many of which are accomplished via computer) to start to piece together the case. The kind of deduction Nick uses to solve the case isn't inspired, it's unbelievable, with the journey being boring and the destination both unsatisfying and unreasonably complicated, the kind of thing a screenwriter less interested in mysteries and more interested in interpersonal relationships cooks up.

Kline is decent as Nick, but he's out of his depth in terms of how to play the the material. Wisely, he avoids hamming it up, but he looks visibly uncomfortable during the movie's extended finale, and not just because it involves tumbling down several flights of stairs. Alan Rickman also scores a couple of chuckles as oddball Ed, and despite the schizophrenic nature of their relationship, there's a good chemistry between Kline and Aiello, especially in some of the later scenes. The real shame, though, is the way the movie wastes a charming Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in a fairly thankless role, which requires her to be the hero's love interest, spiritual motivation, and worst of all, his decoy victim. Her radiant smile is one of The January Man's few pleasures -- too bad it's more of a life raft than a saving grace.

The Blu-ray
The January Man is offered by Kino with the original poster art intact, featuring Kline standing in a broken-down doorway, with Mastrantonio poking her head out from behind him. The back is the standard Kino template with white text on a black backdrop and a couple of photos from the film. The package comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-ray case, with no insert.

The Video and Audio
rnIn general, I've found that the MGM catalog, both when they released catalog titles themselves and via Kino Lorber, looks pretty decent in high definition, with print damage being the only real deterrent from some of their releases. That said, The January Man ranks among the more impressive and pleasing releases from their catalog, with vibrant, natural-looking colors, consistently impressive detail and clarity, and no significant instances of damage or age on the print in question. Occasionally, a close-up will look a little softer than one would expect, but these moments hardly distract from the vibrancy and liveliness of the presentation offered here. One quibble: purists will notice that the MGM logo on this effort has been replaced with a new, digital logo -- not the 2015 iteration, which pulls back out of the unfurling film reels to reveal the familiar roaring lion, but a modern rendition of their stationary one that appeared from the 1980s all the way through the 2000s.

Audio-wise, the disc has an equally fine DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which sounds as crisp and clean as it must have the day it was recorded. This razor-sharp track may not be the kind of 5.1 experience modern audiences are used to, but it still has an immediacy and authenticity that draws the viewer right in. English subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
The disc's sole extra is a promotional making-of featurette (6:24, SD), which features the usual hyperbolic narrator and the usual brief, mostly-generic talking head interviews about the movie. An original theatrical trailer is also included.

If you're a fan of The January Man, you should be quite pleased by Kino Lorber's excellent HD presentation of the movie. Newcomers, though, should be warned that this odd blend of comedy and thriller stumbles its way through a messy plot, without much satisfaction for the effort. Rent it.

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