BluRay/DVD Reviews

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT

By • Jan 18th, 2010 •

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“Ya got a ready made audience!” is Hollywood’s Producers’ rationale behind re-making Hollywood classics. We are all curious to see what happens when today’s stars and special effects take on classic films that have happily settled into every movie-goer’s bloodstream. What will CGI do with KING KONG? How will Denzel Washington handle THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and so on. So, why does Peter Hyams, director of CAPRICORN ONE and NARROW MARGIN, take on a 1956 film very few people remember?

The original BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, which was the last American film directed by suspense-movie pioneer Fritz Lang, followed a news writer (Dana Andrews) framing himself for murder in order to show flaws in the justice system. At the last moment, his friend is supposed to come forward with the hard evidence that clears him. However, the friend is killed in an auto accident. Now there is nothing to clear our innocent protagonist.

Bert Friedlob, whom Lang detested, produced the first BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. Their other film together, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, is also flawed, but has a bigger fan base, and would have been the better choice for a remake. Even die-hard Lang fans who champion the great German director’s lesser known films such as MOONFLEET or HANGMEN ALSO DIE by-pass this half-century old newspaper potboiler.

The new film features Michael Douglas as Martin Hunter, a tough-as-nails lawyer with political aspirations. A perky young journalist, C.J Nicholas, (Jesse Metcalfe of Smallville fame), frames himself for a crime as a stunt to show up how Hunter f***’s with the system for personal profit. Hunter and Nicholas share the same thing – boy-toy Ella (Amber Tamblyn). Hyams is very often his own cinematographer, and sometimes it is a very good thing. Various images here are mysterious, in the dark, just outlined enough: like a crime scene pencil sketch seen in negative. But, whether you are oh-so-artful with your shooting, or just going to point the camera and shoot, it is a poor idea to have the audience several steps ahead of the mystery. We’ve seen all this before, so the film is like a pretty subway ride – we know what stops are coming up. We know Nicholas is going to be wrongly thrown into jail, that bad guy Mart Hunter will visit him, with snickering evil dialog. We know that it is up to perky gal-pal to save the day. Except for the lensing, the film lacks imagination and originality, feeling like a very mediocre TV movie from decades past.

The film has been marketed by its makers as a “youthful noir”. “Youthful noir” sounds like a line of Children’s Clothing you would buy at Target. The Eisenhower era original had us rooting for the 50-ish Dana Andrews and his middle-aged sweetheart, Joan Fontaine. This being the Obama era, twenty-something hipsters Metcalf and Tamblyn have replaced them

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