Year of the Gun

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.66:1/16x9, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, single side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated R, 111 min., $19.95, street date 12/21/99.

Studio Line

Directed by John Frankenheimer. Starring Andrew McCarthy, Sharon Stone, Valeria Golino, John Pankow, George Murcell, Mattia Sbragia.

The master of the political thriller, John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), has done it again - this time focusing his astute lens on Rome in the late seventies, a time in which the classical city is rocked by political unrest.

American journalist David Raybourne (McCarthy) has arrived in Rome to write a political best seller about The Red Brigade, militant left-wing group terrorizing Italy. When a daring photojournalist (Stone) believes Raybourne's book to be a piece of non-fiction…the manuscript falls tragically into the wrong hands.

Now fictional characters named after Raybourne's closest friends and colleagues suddenly become real enemies of both the terrorists and the police. Accused of knowing too much, Raybourne's real problem is that he knows too little about the politics of Rome, about the secret lives of his friends and about the loyalties of his lovers.

Picture/Sound/Extras (C+/C+/D-)

Although John Frankenheimer has helmed some strong movies over the years - such as The Manchurian Candidate and Ronin - 1991's stands little chance of entering the history books as a memorable film. While not without some merits, I found it to be a paint-by-numbers thriller that does little to make itself distinctive or exciting.

Most of the fault lies at the feet of the actors. Andrew McCarthy provides an exceedingly superficial and weightless performance as our lead, David. He's a journalist who inadvertently gets caught up in vicious political intrigue. The plot seems Hitchcockesque, with a fairly ordinary man who becomes involved in dire circumstances due to mistaken impressions, but the film never really gets going and it fails to involve or excite the viewer. For the most part, the action seems fairly predictable and does little to deviate from a pretty well-trod path.

Again, the acting bears a lot of this weight. McCarthy appears inappropriately cast as our struggling writer; when he's supposed to seem forceful or active, he simply looks like a whining baby for the most part. McCarthy's the kind of actor who can pull off light comedy but he's in completely over his head here.

As for the remainder of our main cast, Valeria Golino looks quite sexy as David's main love interest, Lea, but her character seems slight and her performance barely sticks to the film. Sharon Stone - here in a feature before she became well-known - isn't bad as reckless photojournalist Alison - she definitely makes for a more compelling presence than the others - but the lack of character imbued by the script hurts her; she offers a more complete presence than we see elsewhere, but that's not saying much.

Frankenheimer directs Year of the Gun competently, and although the script skimps on characterization, it provides some mild excitement. The movie's not terrible, by any stretch of the imagination, but I nonetheless found it to be fairly lackluster, mainly because of a gritless and lighter than air performance from Andrew McCarthy. This definitely isn't a movie I anticipate I'll watch again.

Although Columbia-Tristar (CTS) is one of the best supporters of DVD, you wouldn't know it from the shoddy effort they put into Year of the Gun. First off, despite what it says on the case, the film does not appear in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1; no, this is most definitely a fullframe transfer. Because the film is shown fullframe, it has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Admittedly, the absence of letterboxing is not the end of the world for such a mildly matted film as this, but it's disappointing and noticeable; while no significant visual information appears lost on the sides, I felt the image occasionally seemed more cramped than it should have.

The picture itself seems decent but also mildly disappointing. Sharpness appears strong for relatively close-up shots but lacks consistency for anything wider than that; those scenes may look okay but they often seem somewhat vague and fuzzy. Moire effects appear infrequently, though this film does depict some of the most shimmering blinds I've ever seen, and jagged edges also are rarely a problem. The print itself looks fairly clean and doesn't depict too many flaws; occasional speckles and spots appear but little else. However, the film does seem rather grainy at times.

Most colors appear largely solid and accurate, but the movie has a lot of trouble with skin tones; these often look muddled and take on an orange tint. Black levels are slightly too dark, which sometimes interferes with shadow detail; most of the time, I had little difficulty discerning nuances, but some scenes came across as a bit too opaque. The image of Year of the Gun contains some definite flaws, but overall it seems slightly above average.

The same can be said for the film's Dolby Surround 2.0 mix; it's decent but nothing special. The movie features a mildly wide forward soundstage that specializes in effective car sounds; we sometimes hear autos pan nicely from one side to another. Other than that, however, the spatial effect is passable at best. The mix seems strangely subdued and tepid and it never really involved me even though all of the auditory components seemed to be there. Take the riot scenes, for example; I heard the sounds one associates with such an action, and they appeared decently localized to the different speakers, but the overall effect lacked immediacy and never brought me into the film. Rear surround usage appeared very limited and often seemed distorted when it did occur.

Sound quality appeared acceptable for the most part. Dialogue generally sounded clear and natural, but varying dull or edgy tendencies occasionally affected it. Effects seemed fairly realistic, though distortion sometimes marred explosions or gunfire. The film's score was the most successful aspect of the mix in regard to sonic quality; it seemed nicely crisp and smooth and boasted some fine low end. Despite that high point, YOTG generally sounded pretty mediocre.

YOTG features few supplemental features. Trailers appear for the film plus other Stone pictures The Quick and the Dead and Gloria. A four-page booklet provides brief but compelling production notes; these add the factual background for the piece. And that's all she wrote!

Year of the Gun has little to offer. The movie itself seems bland and fairly predictable, and the DVD provides generally mediocre sound and picture. Almost no extras come with the movie. The movie may be worth a rental at best.

Previous: Pal Joey | Back to Main Page