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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Deal



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#1 of 1 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted July 18 2008 - 03:18 PM

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Release Date: July 29, 2008
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc DVD case
Year: 2003
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1h24m
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Audio: English: Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Closed Captioning: None
MSRP: $22.95

The Feature: 4/5
"The Deal" chronicles the rise to power of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For its DVD release it's being billed as a prequel to the 2006 feature film "The Queen," but it was actually made first, so technically "The Queen" is the sequel. I prefer to call the two films companion pieces since one doesn't have much to do with the other in terms of story, though having the same director (Steven Frears), writer (Peter Morgan), and actor playing Blair (Michael Sheen) imparts an undeniable continuity.

Produced in 2003 for British television, "The Deal" had an appropriate venue given its narrow scope and limited audience. But five years later, with the success of the "The Queen" and Blair's resignation in 2007 after 10 years on the job (the last half of which was more controversial in global terms), the film's release to DVD is appropriate. Though Blair doesn't generate the same kind of universal interest that Queen Elizabeth does, nor will most viewers have a general awareness of the film's background politics, "The Deal" is an early but important glimpse at a world leader who has had an undeniable influence on both his country and the planet. I imagine we'll still be finding out how many years from now.

As far as the depicted events, don't feel bad if you get lost in the proceedings. In fact after 20 minutes it's not a bad idea to switch to the DVD's special features, which has written biographies of Blair and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as a 20-minute interview of Frears providing the necessary survey of the British political landscape. If you're feeling especially lost, you may want to watch the film with the commentary track engaged.

Even though there's a fair bit of political history in play, the core of the story is rather simple. There's an opening to be head of the Labor Party after its leader dies from a heart attack. Both Blair and Brown (David Morrissey) are interested in taking over, but a runoff between them would likely divide the party and undo all the work they've done to restore it. Blair is the undeniably popular choice, the one who will not just be able to lead the party but also bring in new members. Brown is smarter, but has none of the people skills. Ultimately the two strike a deal - Brown steps aside and is made Chancellor, the second-most powerful position in government, and Blair promises to serve only one term as Prime Minister to let Brown have his turn. But we all know how long it actually took for Blair to let go of the reins.

The last half of the film - when the rivalry between Blair and Brown hits its peak - is the most intriguing and easiest to follow. The rest can be a little disorienting, trying to sort out who's who and why it matters. Again, since the film was not produced for consumption outside of Britain, it wastes no time with explanations. Even so, the strength of the writing and direction make it accessible enough if you're willing to give up complete understanding of the situation. Those who enjoyed "The Queen" should also find it an interesting expansion of one of its key - if somewhat peripheral - characters.


Video Quality: 3.5/5
Framed at 1.78:1 the picture is mostly free of physical defects. Black levels are consistently deep and stable but also tend to look a little crushed. Sharpness is very good; a few shots are a touch soft but nothing serious. One establishing shot looked particularly low resolution, but I saw no others like it. As was done in "The Queen," actual television footage from the time is used to ground the story and provide some historical reference. There's the requisite drop to video quality (with some additional manipulation to further emphasize the archival quality), but it's consistently clean and the intentional look is effective. Compression noise is visible in the regular film footage, though not enough to prove distracting.


Audio Quality: 3/5
The English stereo track is as simple as they come. On the whole the audio is clear, but because of the accents in play, some viewers may need to engage the subtitles. This is especially true with Brown, who speaks from the throat in a slight Scottish brogue.


Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentary with Writer Peter Morgan and Producer Christine Langan: Morgan and Langan speak appropriately for an international audience, providing a good mix of political background information and production history. Things fade a bit towards the end as it comes down to the contest between Blair and Brown, but those who feel especially clueless about British politics will find the track quite helpful.

A Conversation with Steven Frears (21m55s): Thorough and engaging interview includes a summary of Britain's political climate in the 1990s, casting the leads, public response to the production, and the lead up to making "The Queen."

Biographies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: Written summaries of Blair's and Brown's political histories.

Trailers from the Miriam Collection: El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Cinema Paradiso, Control, I'm Not There


Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Biopic with slightly esoteric content is made less so by an informative and helpful special features package. Audio and video transfers get the job done.
One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com





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