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DVD Review HTF Review: Mulholland Falls (1 Viewer)

Jason Perez

Second Unit
Jul 6, 2003

Mulholland Falls

Studio: MGM
Year: 1996
Rated: R
Running Time: 107 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1) and Full Frame (1.33:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1

Release Date:
November 2nd, 2004

For me, the impressive ensemble cast of director Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls, and its promise of an intriguing murder mystery, made this a movie with lots of potential. Unfortunately, although it has a very talented cast, and is clearly crafted to be reminiscent of the noir films of old, the result fails to live up to its potential, instead ending up as little more than a feeble attempt to emulate its more memorable predecessors. To be sure, I am no expert on the noir genre, but I don’t think one has to be to become frustrated by Mulholland Falls. Really, aside from some of the performances and the excellent cinematography by Haskell Wexler, just about every aspect of this film is mediocre, especially the script, which grows increasingly illogical as the movie runs its course.

Set in Los Angeles during the 1950s, Mulholland Falls tells the tale of four brutal police officers: Max Hooper (Nick Nolte), Elroy Coolidge (Chazz Palminteri), Eddie Hall (Michael Madsen), and Arthur Relyea (Chris Penn). These four thugs frequently operate outside of the normal system of justice they are part of, as a pseudo-vigilante outfit that has no qualms about intimidating, torturing, and even killing suspected criminals when they deem it to be necessary.

The film starts off with a bang, introducing this fearsome foursome as they nab a troublesome crime boss named Jack (William Peterson), and take him for a ride to “Mulholland Falls”. Jack, who is no simpleton, knows Los Angeles is devoid of waterfalls, and anticipates that these officers of the law are going to try and murder him. Unfortunately for him, he is proven right, but after this shocking opening sequence, the story transitions into a completely illogical and transparent murder/conspiracy case involving the federal government.

Basically, the story begins in earnest when the battered corpse of a woman named Allison Pond (Jennifer Connelley) is discovered at a construction site. Of course, Ms. Pond’s death appears to have occurred under mysterious circumstances, which become even more mysterious when it is learned that she had “ties” to General Thomas Timms (John Malkovich), the head of the Atomic Energy Commission and inventor of the A-bomb. Things become more complicated still, when the audience is also clued in on the fact that Officer Hooper had just broken off an affair with the murdered beauty. And there you have it…a dead body and several different paths the investigation could take. The stuff all good whodunits are made of!

Sadly, however, although Mulholland Falls’ story has some potentially intriguing elements in it, the execution just isn’t there. The worst problem is that many plot points make absolutely no sense, are incredibly predictable, or are filled with small (but irritating) inconsistencies. Most of the dialogue is also terrible, and I was annoyed to find that several interesting characters disappear from the film, never to be seen again, without any clear reason given for their departure.

On a more positive note (not to be redundant), Mulholland Falls does boast a very talented cast, and most of them deliver impressive performances, despite the weakness of the material, which is the real reason for how disappointing the film is. To begin with, Nick Nolte is fabulous as Max Hooper, and Chazz Palminteri, who plays his partner, is every bit his equal. Most of the remainder of the cast, including the ever-creepy John Malkovich, the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, and the trio of Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, and Chris Penn are also very good, even though they are given precious little to do. The notable exception is Melanie Griffith, who is downright awful as Max Hooper’s wife, Catherine.

Reflecting back on the film, I think that at its beginning, Mulholland Falls is certainly capable of fooling most viewers into thinking it will be a thrilling, gritty motion picture. More specifically, the plot, which eventually degenerates into the ridiculous, initially builds tension and intrigue effectively, especially as it relates to the Allison Pond’s death and the possible involvement of the Atomic Energy Commission. Unfortunately, as the film answers the questions it raises, the story becomes less and less interesting, not to mention more illogical (even stupid in places). In particular, I am referencing some of the completely unrealistic behavior of the police officers, who have no problem with savagely beating suspected criminals in front of witnesses, ignoring the orders of the U.S. military to stay out of a top-secret installation, and beating down FBI Agents they believe are infringing on their turf. Yeah, sure…

Anyway, although it is not a completely abysmal film, Mulholland Falls was certainly a big disappointment, especially considering what it could have been. Indeed, given the talent involved, there is no excuse that it was not a much better film, so I really cannot recommend it unless you have a passion for watching good actors trying to rise above poorly written material!

For Mulholland Falls MGM has created a nice, 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that presents the Haskell Wexler’s wonderful cinematography in a clear, clean, and pleasing manner. To begin with, bright primary colors, rich wood tones, and the darker colors of the detectives’ suits are all rendered in an accurate fashion, without any noteworthy aberrations. The same holds true for the character’s skin tones, which appear smooth and natural throughout.

The print used also has a negligible amount of minor imperfections in the print, and no major damage to speak of, as well as an impressive level of fine detail, which is evident in the background of most scenes. Likewise, blacks are rich and deep, so the image contains excellent detail in dimly lit environments and an above average sense of dimensionality.

Really, about the only negative is a minute amount of edge enhancement that pops up on occasion. Fortunately, this never serves to detract from the viewing experience too much, but it is noticeable enough to be a minor distraction. Other than that, the compression process appears to have been delicately handled, as artifacts related to MPEG compression never pose any problems. All in all, with one small exception, this is a very good transfer of the film elements of Mulholland Falls into the digital domain!

The soundtrack for Mulholland Falls comes in the form of a robust Dolby Digital (5.1) track that effectively draws the listener into whatever is transpiring on-screen. First off, dialogue is always clear and intelligible, and the unique characteristics of each actor’s voice come across well. The soundstage is also fairly expansive, giving the film’s score a little room to breathe (although it doesn’t make it any more memorable :) ).

The mix also takes advantage of the rear channels’ ability to make the audience feel as if they are a part of the action during several key moments in the film. Indeed, during fistfights, airplane flights, and shootouts, the sound field is wide and full, and imaging is almost spot-on. As such, sounds like bullet ricochets, and the sounds of the environment when characters are out of doors, are pronounced and involving, and yet also very natural sounding at the same time. In the aforementioned action sequences, bass response is plentiful and defined as well, heightening the tension of those scenes and giving subwoofers a chance to earn their keep.

Surprisingly aggressive and dynamic during “busier” scenes, and no less effective at reproducing dialogue and micro-dynamic noises, this track is a winner, and the highlight of the disc (at least in my opinion)!


Theatrical Trailer
The theatrical trailer for Mulholland Falls is included.


(on a five-point scale)
Film: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Extras: 1/2
Overall: :star: :star: 1/2

It looks like it has some promise early on, but Mulholland Falls ends up being a disappointing attempt to revisit the classic noir films of old. Basically, despite some good work from a very talented cast, Lee Tamahori’s inconsistent direction, and a screenplay that becomes less and less interesting with each passing moment undermines whatever potential this film had to be good.

In terms of technical quality, Mulholland Falls looks pretty good, with the DVD featuring both the widescreen presentation of the film for “those who know” ;) , and a full-frame version that should not be watched if you can help it. The movie also sounds great, with an unexpectedly dynamic mix that makes this watered-down noir a bit more engaging! Unfortunately, however, this release is almost extra-free, containing nothing more than the theatrical trailer for the film.

In considering all of the above, I have to argue against a purchase for this title, as there is no question that the level of talent involved in this project should have translated into a much better film. If you really, really like noir films, you may want to give it a rental, although I believe you would probably be better served to just revisit one of those that you already love, or discover an old one that you haven’t yet seen.

Stay tuned…

Dean Arizona

Dec 8, 2002
There are a few scenes in this film with Jennifer Connelley that alone, are worth the price of this DVD. Forget the Maltese Falcon, Jennifer IS the stuff that dreams are made of!


Supporting Actor
Jul 27, 2004
I will agree with Jason on his assessment of the film, but for me it IS abysmal - horribly written, badly directed and almost unwatchable. Even Jennifer Connelly, the person who seemingly makes sane people want to buy this DVD, is not at her best - for those who want to see her attributes at their fakest and largest (compare and contrast with The Hot Spot and you'll see just how much artifice there is - or any of her other earlier films - at some point after Mulhollond Falls she had a reduction and is back to her normal self) I suppose this film will be a winner. The best thing about the film (unmentioned by Jason) is Dave Grusin's terrific score. That, not Miss Connelly's overripe (OVERripe) bosoms would be the only reason I'd consider getting the DVD, but it's not enough, unfortunately, and I have the CD.


Stunt Coordinator
Apr 30, 2004
Mulholland is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I remember the highlight being me saying "Hey look! There's that guy from Early Edition."

Hideous, HIDEOUS movie. I can't believe this warrants a DVD release, and yet Grand Prix sits in the vault.

Robert Dunnill

Second Unit
Jun 16, 2001
Actually, the intent of the tumble was to rough him up, not kill him. Afterwards, battered and bleeding, but very much alive, he is told in no uncertain terms that he will receive this treatment every time the police have to expel him from L.A. The "Hat Squad" then drives off, leaving the pummelled miscreant to find his own way back.

I can't vouch for the veracity of "The Hat Squad," but police using excessive force to discourage criminals is nothing new.

This film is among my favorites, and I've been waiting for it to appear on DVD for over five years. In fact, during one of the HTF/MGM chats in 2000, I asked whether it was planned for DVD, and was told to look for it in 2001.

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