'Leo' *** 030505 (Updated review 030806, added screen caps.)
DVD Review (2002)

The Work = ***
'Leo' is a strange movie, a bit like a Stephen King story; it mixes two parallel tales in a slightly surreal fashion. One story is a sort of steamy depiction of passion and desperation in the South. Elisabeth Shue is the main focus of this story and she handles it fairly well although after a point I lost sympathy with her (and there was one moment when her son tells her not to smoke and she gives a laugh that just seemed too over the top.) As 'Leo' goes on, her character drifts in directions t
hat make it increasingly difficult to sympathize with her.

The second story follows a man named Stephen who has just been released from prison. Stephen is played with skill by Joseph Fiennes. I have to admit I was not a big fan of his work prior to seeing this film but now I believe I was too quick to judge him. Fiennes brings a fractured calmness to the role that speaks wonders for the character's background. It is clear he has been damaged either by his prison stay or by what lead him to be incarcerated in the first place or by both.

How the two stories intertwine I will not go into but I will say that I found it predictable and thought that perhaps the film may have sat better with me had it not taken so long to get to the connection between the two parts. The movie supposedly parallels The Odyssey but I cannot speak to that as I have not read it. (Don't expect me to have any "real" knowledge, I'm only dork who needs to read more and watches too many movies.) The film is made with skill and the director handles the difficult task of filming some pretty dry material (and making it interesting,) very well.

Stephen works at a diner that hires ex cons and treats them with little respect. Part of the problem is a local troublemaker (played by the typecast Dennis Hopper) has bought into the place and shows up every day to degrade and terrorize the staff. His primary target is a beaten down looking waitress played by Deborah Kara Unger. She is so intimidated by his actions that when he says her name she jumps with a start.

What unfolds is a southern drama that is not entirely successful. Hopper especially, is predictable and his final scenes in the film seem tacked on. Once I realized where the story was going there weren’t any more surprises and the film became less engaging That being said, much of 'Leo' is still moving and it has many fine performances, especially from Fiennes. I particularly liked a tense scene between Fiennes, Hopper and Unger at the restaurant. They and the rest of the cast shine through along with the direction and look of the film to overcome its problems.

DVD = ***

The Look
This film gets a nice (but non-anamorphic) transfer on the DVD. The distorted colors come through clearly and except for a few sections the transfer looks good. This is a pretty film and the shots that fair the best look georgeous. The film is presented in *non-anamorphic widescreen in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

The Sound
The Dolby digital 2.0 track seemed good to me with clear sound effects and dialogue, although a bit quiet. Subtitles are available only in Spanish.

The Bonus
Well there are some features on the DVD which I was pleased to see but there is no commentary track which this DVD was screaming for. The bit with the most information is a collection of interviews, some on set, some press junket with the director and cast. All together they run just under 48 minutes. There is some info here along with some useless back patting and promotion. Frustratingly there are no chapter stops so you can't jump around. You have to either sit through all of the interviews or fast forward... Yay! Just like vhs used to be!

Of less substance on the DVD is some behind the scenes footage that runs for about eight and a half minutes showing the crew and cast working on a selection of scenes. There are also a few movie trailers, (for Live Forever in widescreen, Perfect Strangers in fullscreen and Mayor of Sunset Strip in widescreen.) The trailers don’t really have any relation to 'Leo' and annoyingly the trailer for 'Leo' is absent.

All together = ***
Good movie. Pretty good DVD. While I like the extras and the transfer seemed decent, the studio still could have done a lot better job. The film itself is a good drama, it has its problems, but the performances, especially the surprisingly impressive one by Joseph Fiennes help make it at least worth checking out. I suspect that if this film had a wider distribution it would have a large cult following. In fact, in some respects I feel like I should be giving 'Leo' a stronger recommendation. There are plenty of worse films that get wider releases and this one needs to be seen buy more people.

*(Thanks to Anthony for the correction on the DVD image.)


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