Romeo is Bleeding
Corrupt cop Jack Grimaldi (wonderfully played by Oscar-winning actor Gary Oldman) is about to get in way over his head. In bed with the mob, Jack has made a lot of money but when he gets an assignment from the Feds to protect the beautiful but deadly Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), orders from the mob to kill her, and an entirely different offer from Mona herself, he finds himself lured into a web of treachery in which nobody can be trusted.
Directed by Peter Medak (The Krays) and with a screenplay by Hilary Henkin (Wag the Dog), this neo-noir thriller features a superb supporting cast that includes Annabella Sciorra, Juliette Lewis and Roy Scheider.
BFI presents Peter Medak’s Romeo is Bleeding on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and encoded at 1080p/24hz. The master was supplied by MGM. The disc is locked for region B, so North American viewers will require a player that can playback region B content.
No surprise really, but we’re getting what is obviously an older master, and it looks like the same one that was used for MGM’s 2002 DVD edition, though now presented in full high-definition (Twilight Time used the same one for their North American release). Minimal restoration (if any) went into this and damage, consisting mostly of bits of dirt and debris, pop up regularly throughout, getting heavier during the film’s opening and conclusion.
The digital master also shows its age but it’s not all that bad when you get down to it. Some shimmering effects pop up with tighter line patterns (this includes long shots with brick buildings) but detail is, if not outstanding, pretty solid, and outside of a couple of dupey looking shots the picture manages to stay sharp. Grain is there—even if it’s not as tight and as clean as I’d like—while colours manage to pop, especially the reds. Black levels hang in there, looking deep without crushing, and shadow detail is also decent.
A new scan and restoration would certainly help, though the likelihood of that happening is pretty much nil; the film’s appeal is… limited. As it is, it does offer a noticeable improvement over the old MGM DVD, but it’s a very minimal improvement.
BFI only includes a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround soundtrack. Clarity is solid and range can be impressive. A couple of more action-centric sequences (like one involving a fight in a car) show considerable range, likewise a few gunshots and Mark Isham’s score, the latter of which can go from low and subtle to frantic and loud at a moment’s notice. Audio is spread out nicely with noticeable panning. It’s also clean, free of any damage.
The film has never really received any sort of special edition (that I’m aware of), MGM’s disc only packing on a trailer while Twilight Time’s Blu-ray added an isolated score track (with “some effects” as the listing states). BFI’s disc includes both of these, but they’ve also seen fit to add a few of their own new features.
The most impressive (and surprising) of these is a brand-new audio commentary featuring critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who works overtime defending the film, one that she feels was undeservedly dismissed at the time of its release. She states right off that since she writes about gender politics in films, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she will focus a lot on that aspect of Romeo is Bleeding (which is probably the most obvious way to come at it), but she also talks about it in the context of other independent crime films of the early 90s (postmodern neo-noir), its playful nature, its editing and visual style. She defends the performances (particularly Juliette Lewis’ performance, saying no one else could have played it), admires the dark humour, and loves to talk about the looks and personality traits of the central characters.
Throughout the track she will reference other opinions, both negative and positive (though mostly negative, Peter Travers’ review from Rolling Stone being about the only positive review for the film), throwing in her own thoughts and counter arguments where applicable. She also talks about Medak’s work to a degree, while also touching on the careers of the film’s actors up to this point, most of whom were at the peaks of their career (while also bringing up Annabella Sciorra’s accusations against Harvey Weinstein). She also likes to point out those just starting out, like the “young and cute” Ron Perlman.
I would never call this film “great” but I do enjoy it for what it is, so it’s not like I was looking for anyone to win me over on it, but I found Heller-Nicholas comments very rewarding, very thoughtful, and I think she did turn me around a little more on the film, allowing me to look at it a little differently than I had before. I like tracks that focus on the merits of underappreciated films, and she offers an incredibly passionate defense.
To accompany this, BFI also includes a new interview (conducted remotely) with director Peter Medak. The 43-minute discussion is more of an overview of his entire film career, from his early days to his successes with The Ruling Class, The Changeling, and The Krays. The last section of the interview then focuses primarily on Romeo is Bleeding and its production, with details around casting (Heller-Nicholas also touches on this and some of the initial choices for the Oldman role are kinda wild). What I found interesting is that the film may not be Medak’s final cut since he gets into issues he had with producers and the production company, which led to changes he was forced to make.
BFI then includes a 24-page booklet featuring an essay by Dr. Rebecca Feasey (working as a nice companion to Heller-Nicholas’ commentary) followed by an essay on the “corrupt cop” archetype in film, written by Lou Thomas. The booklet then closes with an overview of Medak’s work, written by Josephine Botting.
Overall, despite not being packed, BFI provides a very satisfying special edition for the film, thanks primarily to Heller-Nicholas’ commentary track.
Unfortunately, BFI is using the same dated high-def master that has been used for every disc release since MGM’s 2002 DVD edition, but the included commentary and interview make this edition the one to pick up.