'Point of Origin' *** 032905
DVD Review (2002)

The Work = ***
So, I saw this one because I’m a Ray Liotta fan and as I’ve said, I like the crime dramas. 'Point of Origin' is a sort of procedural film about fire investigators chasing a serial arsonist. It is based on a true story and I have to admit I had forgotten about the crimes and was shocked to learn the scope of them. There were a lot of fires throughout California (as well as some in other states) caused by the arsonist in the film, so many in fact that they still do not know all the fires that the arsonist started.

So, how is 'Point of Origin'? Well... it is tough for me to answer. It is certainly not a bad film but... not one of my favorites either. It has good performances, great effects, (especially for a made for TV movie,) and moving sequences. Yet as a hole it seemed almost like it could have been a midseason episode from a TV series. I suppose that's not a huge leap to take since this was made for HBO.

The film was directed by Newton Thomas Sigel who is one of the best cinematographers working today. He did the cinematography for 'Three Kings' and 'Fallen' (among others) both of which had a great distinctive visual sense. You know if nothing else, if a film is directed by a good cinematographer, it is at least going to look good and 'Point of Origin' is no exception. It has wonderful moody lighting and Sigel is not afraid to manipulate the colors for excellent effect.

SPOILER WARNING, BEGINNING OF SPOILERS: Here’s my gripe with this film: Like a lot of pics’ based around real people (Liotta’s character is a real guy) the filmmakers seemed to have trouble finding insight into the character. The thing is John Orr (Liotta) never admitted to the crimes. If he did commit them (as seems very likely,) there is little evidence into what makes him tick. Maybe the trial shed light on his motive but the filmmakers certainly don’t let on that that is the case. The fact that Orr is the arsonist (which is not much of a surprise but I thought I would give the spoiler warning anyway) is truly interesting.

Why did a Fire investigator, a man who was a Captain, become an arsonist? Did something make him snap? Was becoming a fire investigator a way of covering up his deadly addiction? How could he reconcile the crimes he committed with his own family life? After all, he had children of his own that he seemed to love (if in a somewhat detached way.) How could he simply kill children with his fires who were not that removed from his own?

All of these questions are never answered in 'Point of Origin' and as a result the core of the film seems somewhat empty. The filmmakers don’t know what makes John Orr tick other than his ego. So was it somehow about showing up everyone and proving his superiority? Again, no answers (although to be fair the film does imply that is the driving reason.) END OF SPOILERS

John Leguizamo plays Keith Lang, a fire inspector who the older, more skilled, John Orr takes under his wing. Had the filmmakers spent more time developing Leguizamo’s character or at least pushing him to the forefront of the film, I think I would have enjoyed it more. He is the would-be rookie who is tracking the arsonist and his arc is left a bit on the weak side since I never really learned anything about him.

At the end of the day Point of Origin is not a bad movie but just an ok one. Great performances all around and a wonderful look provided by Newton Thomas Sigel are the films strengths. Its weakness is in the story arc. I just couldn’t get that involved. Individual scenes work great but the film as a whole did not do it for me. Recommend for fans of the cast and crew.

DVD = ***

The Look
'Point of Origin' gets a good transfer from HBO. I didn't notice any haloing or digital artifacts and the image looked crisp and clear. As I mentioned, Sigel and his crew distort the color pallet quite a bit. (Maybe not so much as in 'Three Kings' which actually has a warning at the beginning of it!) The distortions and flame effects all look good and as near as I can tell are just as the director intended. 'Point of Origin' is presented in Widescreen 1.85:1.

The Sound
'Point of Origin' has a good sound mix. Dialogue, effects, and the film's score came through clearly. The effects of the fire during some of the film’s more stylish sequences sounded good and crisp.

The Bonus
Director Sigel contributes a commentary track and that is all HBO felt the need to present. While I can't be too upset since this wasn't a major release, it's a shame the powers that be didn't decide to include some of the promotional material that I'm sure was produced for it's release or some of the deleted footage that Sigel mentions in his commentary. Speaking of the commentary it is a pretty good one. It does have a bit many gabs but Sigel usually has interesting things to say and avoids the pitfalls of just describing what is happening on screen.

All Together = ***
It’s at least worth a rental I would say. If I had caught it when it premiered on HBO I probably would have enjoyed it for what it was and never watched it again. As it is now, I’m disappointed having seen the film but don’t plan on owning it. Fans of those involved may feel different. The story arch just didn’t hook me enough so I say probably a rental.


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