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Directed by Alan Parker in 1991 and based on the book by author Roddy Doyle, The Commitments gets a twenty-fifth anniversary special edition Blu-ray release to commemorate a quarter century of being both awesome, and criminally underappreciated! Sure, the movie has a solid following, there's no doubt about that, but this isn't just a good movie or a quirky movie, this is a legitimately great movie. Quite frankly, it's surprising that it took this long to hit Blu-ray given how damn good its sound track is (movies like this really benefit from lossless audio!), but hey, better late than never.
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) lives in Dublin and quite frankly, his life is dull. He wants more, he wants excitement, he wants to do something different than just work away his days like everyone around him. He also wants to travel, see things and explore the world. How to do this? Well despite what his father (Colm Meany) might tell him about his idea… Jimmy wants to start a band. Jimmy isn't really musically inclined, however, so he sets out to put together a band that he intends to manage.
Soon enough, he snags a middle aged trumpeter named Joey 'The Lips' Fagan (Johny Murphy), who may or may not have played with all the greats. Then there's a foxy lady named Imelda Quirke (Angeline Ball), another named Natalie Murphy Maria Doyle), a saltier chanteuse Bernie McGloughlin (Bronagh Gallagher) handling backing vocals and the occasional solo. On lead, Jimmy recruits a self-absorbed jerk named Deco Cuffe (Andrew Strong) after seeing him drunkenly sing at a wedding. Then you get a goofy guy named Billy Mooney (Dick Massey) on drums, a jazz obsessed sax player named Dean Fay (Felim Gormley), a somewhat clumsy guy named Derek Scully (Kenneth McCluskey) on bass and a hanger-on of sorts named Mickah Wallace (Dave Finnegan) to provide some muscle in times where muscle is called for. It takes a while for the band to hit its stride, of course, and before they do they have their ups and downs, but soon enough The Commitments are playing soul to the bars and clubs of their home town, and beyond.
And of course, as they start to gain a following and they start to get really, really good at what they do, egos clash, tempers flare and people act like people do when they have to spend as much time together as a band often does.
"Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it's poetry."
The Commitments storyline isn't a particularly complex one but it feels very real thanks to the fantastic characterizations and fairly believable situations. There's no instant rise to fame here, this is a working class band playing in a working class town, but their hard work pays off, as does Rabbitte's occasionally wily management tactics. The story has to it a certain warmth and humor that goes a long way towards making it as enjoyable as it is and you can't help but fall in love with the film. No one here is a superhero, everyone has their flaws and their humanizing characteristics, which give players in the large ensemble cast put together for the picture plenty of heart. Granted, some of the characters get more screen time than others and for that reason, we get to know them better. Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte and Johny Murphy as Joey Fagan get more screen time than anyone else and as such, their characters are flesh out a bit more. We get to know and like Jimmy not just for his drive and his ambition but also for his sense of humor. Joey, on the other hand, has a very balanced, zen-like quality. He tells everyone he's been sent back to Dublin by God to bring soul to the Irish people. He seem to mean it, even if he's also seducing the background singers behind everyone else's back (once to the sounds of Isaac Hayes, of course!).
The supporting players all do a great job of making their individual characters stand out. Each of the three lovely background singers has their own personality, you won't get them mixed up with one another, and they all bring something to the band and to the movie. Dave Finnegan steals more than a few scenes as Mickah, a hot-headed but very loyal addition to the troop who comes in handy more than once, especially when the black marketer that Jimmy went to for gear comes looking for his money. Félim Gormley is also pretty funny as Dean, who goes from novice sax player to jazz impresario in a short period of time, and of course, there's Colm Meany as Jimmy's dad, an Elvis-obsessed middle aged man who can't quite understand what it is that his son is up to here.
If the quirky characters and warm storyline don't get to you, the music definitely will. The performers involved here don't just handle the dramatics but they handle the music as well. Andrew Strong, as front man Deco, can really belt it out, channeling Joe Cocker at times and really putting all of his heart and soul into the vocals. The musicians are all tight, providing some absolutely killer backing for Strong's singing. You wouldn't necessarily assume a bunch of Irish folks would be able to carry a soul act like The Commitments, but not only do they do it, they make it look easy. Parker's direction shines, the pacing is fantastic, the Dublin locations are appropriately dire and give the whole thing the ‘working class' vibe that it needs to succeed. This one holds up remarkably well, it's worth every iota of the praise it has received over the years.The Blu-ray:
The Commitments arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The transfer is pretty decent, if a little soft in spots but this does vary from scene to scene and seem to relate to the photography. Detail is good, close up shots benefit from this the most but you'll notice more even in long distance and medium shots than you would have on DVD. Colors are reproduced very nicely, especially in the concert sequences where some nice stage lighting bathes the players in some interesting hues. Texture is solid, you'll notice it in clothing and in the various Dublin location used throughout the movie. You can definitely get a good feel for the grittier side of town as featured in the movie. Black levels are nice and deep and skin tones accurate and lifelike. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction to note and the picture is very clean, showing very little, if any, actual print damage. Grain is present, as it should be, but never overpowering at all. All in all, this is quite a nice upgrade over what fans will have seen in the past.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (there is no stereo option provided). While the levels are a little bit low here, once you turn things up a bit this mix leaves little room for complaint. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and the music used throughout the film sounds excellent. The live performances really open up here, typically with the band up front where they belong and some ambient/background effects spread into the rear channels, mostly audience noise, applause and what not. Bass response is strong and tight but it doesn't bury anything, while the track is completely free of any hiss or distortion. While the original stereo track should have been included, this is a fine remix and it really does sound very good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.Extras:
Carried over from the DVD release is the audio commentary with Alan Parker that, despite a few moments where he clams up a bit, is pretty illuminating. He talks about the source material that inspired the film, casting the picture, shooting on location in Ireland, and of course the way that music is used throughout the film. There are a lot of interesting stories here about putting the picture together, who did what on set and quite a bit more. He looks back on this quite fondly, which makes him easy to listen to and quite engaging at times.
The only supplement that is new to this release is a HD featurette called 25 Years Later which is a collection of new interviews with Parker and cast members that runs just under twenty-minutes in length. Interviewed here are actors Robert Arkins, Ken McCluskey and Glen Hansard as well as Alan Parker. Obviously it would have been nice to get more of the cast members in front of the camera for this, but clearly that didn't happen for whatever reason. Regardless, this is an interesting piece even if Parker covers some of the same ground here as he does in his commentary and it's a bit clip heavier than it needs to be. The actors all related their experiences working on the film and share some fun stories from the set. There's also a fair bit of discussion about the late Johnhy Murphy, who passed away earlier this year (and to whom this featurette is dedicated).
Also carried over from the 2004 DVD release (all in standard definition) are a few other extras, starting with The Making Of Alan Parker's Film The Commitments. This twenty-three minute piece is a nice mix of cast and crew interviews and footage. There are a lot of fun stories in this one and it's worth checking out if you haven't seen it before. The Commitments: Looking Back is a lengthy forty-seven minute piece that again mixes up plenty of cast and crew interviews with some interesting footage. Made for the special edition DVD release that came out some time ago, here we get interviews with pretty much everyone who appeared in front of the camera in the film as well as Parker, producer Roger Randall-Cutter and a few others. The fifteen minute Dublin Soul featurette is an interesting piece that looks at the state that the city was in when the novel was written and around the time that the film was shot there. Lots of great location footage here. The Making Of The Commitments is an eight minute promo piece that plays more like an extended trailer for the film than an actual documentary. It's worth checking out if you haven't seen it before but it is very promotional in nature.
Rounding out the extras are two still galleries, the music video for Treat Her Right, animated menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray case also holds inside a color booklet with an essay on the film written by Alan Parker illustrated with stills from the feature. The case in turn fits inside a slipcover.Final Thoughts:
The Commitments: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release could have used a few new extras maybe, but otherwise it's a very nice presentation. The audio and video are of very nice quality and the new featurette is definitely worth taking the time to check out. On top of that we get pretty much everything carried over from the older DVD release and a nice booklet and slipcover too. As to the movie itself? It's a great film, one of the best films to come out of the early nineties, and it has lost none of its charm in the quarter century that has passed since it first hit theaters. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.