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Blu-ray Review Carlos Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Sep 24, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    The notorious terrorist career of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez who carved a destructive path through multiple countries in Europe and the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s comes to vivid if somewhat muddled life in Olivier Assayas’ Carlos. Featuring a career-making performance in the title role and absorbing, beautifully executed recreations of some of the most potent terrorist acts of the latter half of the 20th century, Carlos is a one-of-a-kind achievement. Sprawling and at times unfocused, the film still holds the viewer transfixed as we witness power shifts, allegiances struck and abandoned, and a series of bombings, kidnappings, and hijackings which were par for the political course during those monumental years of global unrest.

    Carlos (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Olivier Assayas

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 2010

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 339 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English and other languages
    Subtitles: English

    Region: A

    MSRP: $49.95

    Release Date: September 27, 2011

    Review Date: September 24, 2011

    The Film


    We first meet Ilich Sanchez (Edgar Ramirez) in 1973 as he begins his climb up the ladder of international infamy with casual bombings all about trying to instill confidence in his abilities with the organization led by Beirut-based militant Wadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour). Early initial success gives “Carlos” (his adopted moniker) bragging rights as the PFLP organization’s most ruthless warrior, but as his infamy grows, so, too, does his ego, enough for Haddad to caution him about it and later, after the disastrous failure of their mission to assassinate the oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, be dismissed from the group altogether. Unbowed, Carlos moves into his own independent operations based out of Budapest with the Syrians fronting him money and weapons to continue his struggles. As time passes and the world changes before his eyes, the ending of the Cold War and the end of his money and weapon pipeline leads him to scrounge for a cause and someone to finance it.

    Assayas (who co-wrote the script with Don Franck) directs some wonderfully taut set pieces (Carlos’ quadruple murder that seals his reputation, the lengthy and brilliantly sustained OPEC hostage sequence), and the film almost never stops to take any breaths (there is a lovely sequence with Carlos’ close friend “Angie”(Christoph Bach) wanting to live a quieter existence, and there are occasional romantic interludes as the alluring Carlos woos and beds many a willing lady revolutionary and prostitute) as the writer-director keeps the story forever moving forward to its inevitable conclusion. Though an obvious docudrama with times, places, and people clearly identified throughout, the movie makes it clear in each of its three sections that because certain events were of necessity invented for dramatic continuity, the film has to grudgingly be called “fiction,” but we understand: legal matters take precedence over dramatic viability especially since the title character in question is still very much alive serving out his life sentence at La Sante Prison. The three part saga of Carlos is an enormous physical undertaking, too, not just in the globe hopping all over Europe and Asia to tell the story but in its astounding period recreations in sets, props, and costumes which never make a false step. It’s only when Carlos’ exciting life begins winding down in the third part that the film, too, loses momentum and drive.

    Edgar Ramirez throws himself body and soul into the role of Carlos, and in Robert De Niro-like fashion, gains and loses weight as the role demands as well as displaying a human side as well as that of a fierce and occasionally merciless killer. He also speaks five languages with ease and triumphs in showing us both Carlos’ raging inner sense of purpose and his outwardly growing sense of self. As Johannes Weinrich, Carlos’ number two man through much of the film, Alexander Scheer excels, especially in a couple of well played drunk scenes which seem completely realistic. Nora von Waldstatten plays Carlos’ clinging wife Magdalena whose constant jealousy gets a bit tiresome but whose eagerness to participate in the revolution leads to her first real mission which ironically ends in a dismal failure. Christoph Bach’s Hans-Joachim masterfully etches a portrait of a man for whom the revolution comes to mean little while Ahmad Kaabour is a stoic and authoritative Wadie Haddad. Julia Hummer gives a new definition for looney as the berserk terrorist Nada.

    Video Quality


    The film has been framed at its 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. At its best, the image can be striking with excellent sharpness and bold color. However, too often, the image drifts in sharpness and often becomes soft and unappealing with muddy color and undercranked contrast. Black levels are quite mediocre leading to disappointing levels of shadow detail. Flesh tones are generally realistic. White subtitles are always easy to read. The film’s three parts have been divided into 14, 18, and 22 chapters respectively.

    Audio Quality


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix really does nothing special with its rear channels. The mix seems concentrated on the front soundstage where music and ambient effects get a nice spread and dialogue, well recorded, exists in the center channel. There may be slight echoes of music that seep into the rear channels, but those are relatively minor events. For a film that is so action-based for much of its running time, this is a very uninvolving sound design.

    Special Features


    Disc one offers the film’s theatrical trailer which runs 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.

    “Shooting the OPEC Sequence” is a 20 ¼-minute featurette showing behind-the-scenes views of the staging and shooting of this key sequence in the picture. We see the director working with actors, deciding on blocking, and talking with the cinematographer about approaching the shooting. It’s in 1080i.

    Cinematographer Denis Lenoir contributes a specific scene commentary on six sequences in the film which are his particular favorites. He discusses lenses, film stocks, the use of natural lighting where possible, and constructing the frame for each sequence. This runs 8 ¾ minutes in 1080p.

    Disc two contains the majority of the bonus features.

    An interview with director Olivier Assayas runs for 43 minutes in 1080p. In it, he talks about Carlos’ life as a “modern myth” as he summarizes his many manifestations during his terrorist career, discusses casting the movie, its 90-day shooting schedule, and his use of music throughout the film.

    Actor Edgar Ramirez speaks for 19 ¾ minutes about his preparation for the role and special memories he has of the production schedule. It’s in 1080p.

    One of the film’s two cinematographers, Denis Lenoir talks for 13 ½ minutes about his work on the movie and about the working methods of Olivier Assayas. It’s also in 1080p.

    Carlos: Terrorist Without Borders is a 1997 documentary made for French television dealing with the life and times of Carlos Sanchez. Covering his entire life (Carlos doesn’t deal with his early life or family history), the documentary runs 58 ½ minutes and is in 1080i.

    The real Hans-Joachim Klein gives a 38 ½-minute interview under heavy disguise discussing his early life (a victim of parental abuse), his part in student demonstrations, his part in the OPEC hostage situation, and discusses (unflatteringly) the real Carlos. It’s in 1080i and was recorded in 1995.

    Maison de France is a moving 88 ½-minute documentary on one of the Carlos group’s terrorist bombings which wasn’t covered in the film. We meet its two principal participants: the victim Michael Haritz who died in the 1983 explosion and the bomber Johannes Weinrich. Also interviewed are the mother and sister of Michael Haritz and Carlos’ ex-wife Magdalena Kopp. It’s in 1080i.

    The enclosed 40-page booklet contains the chapter listings for all three parts, cast and crew lists, some color stills from the movie, two essays on the director and his film by critics Colin MacCabe and Greil Marcus, and a timeline and biographical information on all of the players in Carlos’ dramatic life.

    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)

    A completely engaging docudrama portraying in carefully chosen pieces of his life the career of terrorist Ilich Sanchez, Carlos easily holds one’s attention over each of its three feature-length parts. A superb bonus catalog extends the value of this very worthwhile Criterion Blu-ray release. Recommended!

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

  2. Vegas 1

    Vegas 1 Supporting Actor

    Jun 23, 1999
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    Las Vegas, NV
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    Alvin Kuenster
    Matt thanks for the review, I have this in my rental qeue
  3. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

    Sep 20, 2002
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    Sounds amazing, I should of pre-ordered it. As is I'll probably wait for a sale. Great review!

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