- Jul 8, 2001
The Big Town
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Film Length: 110 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DD 2.0
Release Date: September 28
Roger Ebert is fond of saying that films should be judged not on what they’re about, but on how they’re about it. I tend to agree, but “The Big Town” argues strongly against that statement.
“The Big Town” is a movie about a young man who is very good at shooting dice. Now, right there I have a problem. It is not possible to be “good” at rolling dice. It is possible to be good at craps, but only to the extent that one knows the odds for any given situation. “The Big Town” makes a half-hearted attempt to make that distinction, but then shows Matt Dillon rolling seven again and again to illustrate his prowess.
Were this movie about poker – or backgammon, for that matter – I would’ve bought it. But, aside from flipping a coin, nothing could be more arbitrary than rolling dice again and again. To suggest that this man has some great knack for rolling sevens (or elevens, or fours, or whatever) is simply too ludicrous a premise for me to accept in the context of a gritty, realistic noir film.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Dillon plays Cully, a small town kid who travels to Chicago to work for a woman who bankrolls top-flight dice players for a modest 70% of the profits. If he’s so good, why does he need someone taking 70% of his earnings? The boss mumbles something about needing her to keep from being called a cheater. OK. Mostly, she’s just a plot device with her very own boring and pointless subplot.
Her husband is a blind dude with a severe attitude problem. From the minute we set eyes on him, we know he’ll be trouble. He is.
Cully, in the process of rolling seven again and again, runs afoul of a local semi-mobster (Tommy Lee Jones) who runs a high-stakes local game. The scenes in which Cully plays in these games will be completely baffling to anyone who doesn’t know the rules of craps.
Exacerbating the situation is Cully’s relationship with the mobster’s girlfriend, (Diane Lane) a stripper of dubious moral fiber. Lane is gorgeous, and her presence is one of the few things to recommend this film.
Also above average are the film’s performances. This is an extraordinary cast, though Jones and Dillon both go over the top now and then (watch Jones spin the cap of a liquor bottle onto the floor, then begin drinking – uh, you might need that later). The plot is a sturdy old formula, but it hasn’t aged well. It’s a shame, because the pieces are here for an effective and intelligent genre picture. But that’s all they are – pieces.
Please note that reviews at the time of this film’s release were generally favorable. As far as I’m concerned, it has aged very badly, to the point of irrelevance.
This transfer is plagued by graininess, bad black levels and bland color balance. Some of that is intentional – this is a noir, after all. If that’s the case, though, why not shoot in black and white? Some shots exhibit pleasing detail, such as in the knap on the blind man’s tweed jacket, and his slightly misshapen mustache.
The best I can say about this 2.0 soundtrack is that you can usually hear what people are saying. Otherwise, a lot of the mix is muddy and hissy, with no punch. It’s a dialog-driven movie, but the 2.0 track isn’t even encoded for Pro Logic.
This is a catalog release for Sony, and in that respect, it’s always good to see another title find its way to DVD. If this film has a following, I’m not aware of it. In fact, I don’t remember having ever heard of this film before it darkened my door. For fans of the actors involved, or those interested in the subject matter, by all means, enjoy. But everything about this release screams half-baked, from the bland transfer to the complete lack of features. As I said, the performances are fine, and the plot is a classic storyline. But the devil is in the details.