Studio: Universal Studios.
US Rating: R - Violence and Language
Film Length: 1hr 52 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
Audio: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English SDH and French
The Film - out of
Bruce Willis has one of the most interesting careers of any modern actor, maintaining a healthy ‘action star’ status through the majority of his post Moonlighting career. His John McClane character in 1988’s Die Hard single-handedly evolved the action hero star from a ‘near-impervious muscle man’ to an ‘everyday’ man, who faces dangerous situations with a rawer, more grounded bravado and healthy doses of wit. Willis has rarely taken risks in the roles he portrays; infrequently stepping outside of the comfortable confines of an isolated hero. When he does take off those shoes, he proves himself to be quite the talented actor. His performances in Unbreakable and 16 Blocks are good examples. But, he appears in a relatively steady stream of films that float along similar plot waters and the ‘variations on a theme’ of his characters, make it easy to compare his films with each other.
On the ‘Willis-action-film’ scale, Mercury Rising is about as average as they come, right down the middle. It is nowhere near as bad as Color of Night or Striking Distance, but still falls far below the cherished heights of the original Die Hard, Hostage or 2005’s Sin City.
Mercury Rising is a familiar tale of innocent people on the run because they ‘know too much’. In this case, a young autistic boy, Simon (Miko Hughes) cracks a puzzle in a magazine and calls the puzzle line, as instructed by the code he cracked. This puzzle, however, happens to have been placed in the magazine by a couple of NSA code-programmers who are involved in a multi billion dollar government code called ‘Mercury’. The head of that division, Lt. Col. Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin), is an unreasonably cold government ‘suit’, who feels it necessary to eliminate any threat to his precious un-crackable code.
The hero of the movie comes in the form of a former undercover agent, Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis), who unwittingly steps backward into the conspiracy after taking on what should have been a simple missing boy case.
Directed by action-thriller veteran Harold Becker (Malice, Sea of Love) from a screenplay by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal, the film is filled with many staples of action-thrillers; clandestine meetings in rainy parks at night, hit-men with dark gloves calmly executing the innocent and action sequences that involve some fast moving piece of transportation – a metro railway in this case. The best action-thrillers, while relying on the staples of the genre, manage to carve out some distinction, either in the story, the style or the execution. The problem with Mercury Rising is that it lacks any real identity, anything that would allow it to stand out from a relatively crowded field. With no signature action or thriller moments, Mercury Rising wades in pedestrian waters.
The script doesn’t demand very much from Bruce Willis and the character he plays isn’t particularly deep. What we get is incredibly average – not enough to get us cheering or to sink our hopes. The young boy who plays Simon, the autistic child, doesn’t exactly pull it off either. Perhaps we have been spoiled by the skills of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense and Leonardo DiCaprio’s phenomenal performance as the mentally handicapped Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but whatever the reason, the mostly lightweight performance of this child doesn’t seem to quite hit the mark, becoming just another feather in the cap of mediocrity. The interplay between Willis’ Jeffries character and the boy isn’t particularly convincing either.
Alec Baldwin is a better actor than he is given credit for, having turned in a great little performance in last year’s outstanding crime drama The Departed. But his Government ‘bad-guy’ in this film is a little tired; written so comfortably evil that it strains what little credibility we need out of characters like his.
Kim Dickens, however, as the good and trusting Samaritan is perfectly suited for the role and does a nice job.
Despite its many flaws, there is still much to be entertained by in Mercury Rising. Bruce Willis is always the most fun to watch in films when he is being a pain in the rear end to the bad guy, and he gets the chance to do that on more than a few occasions in this film. And John Barry provides another fine score, even if it isn’t particularly well suited to the film. The theme is genuine and sweet, and while you are watching the film, wondering if you will ever be able to buy into the action, the score makes for some nice music while you wait.
Mercury Rising comes to us from Universal Studios in 1080P High Definition, with its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and encoded VC-1. The image quality here is just beautiful. Universal released this on standard DVD with an ok transfer, followed by a special edition. This stands far and away clearly above any version I have seen. Absolutely top notch. Sharp, clean and beautifully produced with zero defects that I could see throughout the film. There was noticeable dust over the opening credits and as the credits rolled at the end, but beyond that, this presentation has great color contrast, good black levels and a level of clarity to Bruce that is the best I have seen for a movie this old.
Universal has provided Mercury Rising with a reasonable English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track. While there are some good uses of the surrounds and a slightly above average rumble in the subwoofer, it doesn’t come close to knocking your socks off. Dialogue is clear and John Barry’s music sounds good. Nowhere near reference quality and not as exciting as the picture quality.
Watch The Mercury Rising - (39:16) – A rather lengthy making of featuring interviews with the cast and Director Harold Becker and Executive Producer Brian Grazer. Willis is open and honest in with his comments and there is a good snippet regarding the creation of some subtle visual effects.
Deleted Scenes - (8:59) – A few, very grainy deleted scenes that are mostly trims from key moments. Some would have provided welcome depth to the Willis character, but don’t necessarily hurt the film for having been cut.
Feature Commentary with Director Harold Becker – Harold Becker provides a lot of information even if it is not the smoothest commentary ever recorded. He describes how some shots were achieved, location choices and scene creation. The commentary is dry but fans of this film will get some good background information on the process of making it.
I can be incredibly forgiving of mediocre films as long as there is a set piece of two that knock my socks off; a concept that is more original than the masses or a notable performance that really captures me. But when those things are missing, I am left with the knowledge that I am watching a rehash of similar films and that the film before me hasn’t tried to fool me into thinking that theirs is a fresher take on those familiar elements.
Mercury Rising is such a film - likable but predictable and incredibly average.