Romeo is Bleeding Blu-ray Review
New York. Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) is a cop who supplements his income by informing for Mob leader Don Falcone (Roy Scheider). He is married to Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) and has a younger girlfriend Sheri (Juliette Lewis). Then Jack is assigned to protect contract killer Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin) – a former lover of Don Falcone, who now wants her dead and Jack to reveal her whereabouts. He does this, but she manages to escape...
Romeo is Bleeding has its noir moves down from the start: the hapless and frankly low-rent protagonist, whose voiceover tells the story in flashback, and the femme fatale he clashes with. However, it’s 1993 so we’re in colour (still shot on film, though) and the film, written by Hilary Henkin and directed by Peter Medak, can and does use the profanity and violence the Production Code would not have allowed its ancestors in the 1940s use. Romeo is Bleeding was not especially successful when it came out, neither critically nor commercially, but nearly three decades later it’s worth a second look.
Henkin was one of the film’s producers as well as the writer. Her previous screen credits include the Patrick Swayze 1989 film Road House, a film which picked up a cult following pretty much from when it opened, and the less successful cop movie Fatal Beauty (with Whoopi Goldberg), both of which prove, if proof were still needed, that women can write violent action movies just as well as men can. Henkin went on to an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Wag the Dog, which David Mamet rewrote and for which both are credited. Henkin’s script for Romeo is Bleeding, which had appeared on lists of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood before it was made, plays fair with the genre. Like most noir, it has a male lead, but there’s more than enough attention paid to not one but three principal female roles: Lena Olin’s deranged hitwoman, Juliette Lewis’s tragic girlfriend and Annabella Sciorra’s wife. The latter is considerably more low-key than the other main roles, but it’s at the heart of the film.
It’s worth noting that of the four lead actors, only Oldman is currently active in lead roles in major American films to this day. There are no doubt reasons for that in all cases, and – in hindsight – what we know of Sciorra’s history casts a shadow over the film. More of that below.
Peter Medak was born in Hungary and fled to England at the age of eighteen, entering the film industry at the beginning of the 1960s. He has had a long career, and as he says in the interview on this disc, he has taken the attitude that he should practise his craft by working as much as he should. That also included directing for television, at a time when the small screen was something you aspired to leave when big-screen opportunities came along. There are some duds in his filmography, to be sure: Medak singles out the Peter Sellers film The Ghost of the Noonday Sun, but there are others. But there are fine films too: the stage adaptations The Day in the Death of Joe Egg and The Ruling Class, the ghost story The Changeling and others. Romeo is Bleeding became the third of three crime-based films in a row, following The Krays and Let Him Have It. It may be hard to claim Medak as an auteur, other than a penchant for dark material and an interest in different forms of madness, but he’s proved himself a fine craftsman over the years. For the present film, he was able to attract people of the calibre of editor Walter Murch, score composer Mark Isham and Polish-born cinematographer Dariusz Wolski. Some way down in the cast you will see such soon-to-be-better-known names as James Cromwell and Will Patton. Dennis Farina appears uncredited as a mobster about to give evidence.
While more successful films of its time have faded somewhat, Romeo is Bleeding remains a solid, well-crafted latter-day noir well worth your attention.
Romeo is Bleeding is released on Blu-ray by the BFI. The disc is encoded for Region B only. The film has an 18 certificate.
The film was shot on 35mm film and is transferred to Blu-ray in the intended ratio of 1.85:1. (Medak, in his interview, implies that it’s hard not to frame New York City well in that ratio.) There’s nothing untoward about the transfer, which is solid with natural and filmlike grain.
Romeo is Bleeding was made about a year too early to have had a digital soundtrack, so the LPCM 2.0 (surround) track on this disc is as close as possible to the Dolby Stereo mix the film had in cinemas. There’s a fair amount of activity in the surrounds and my subwoofer did pick up a fair amount of bass even without a dedicated LFE channel. English subtitles are available for the hard of hearing and there is also the option of an isolated music score, which includes some sound effects.
This release is lighter on extras than some of the BFI’s releases, with just one representative of the cast and crew present. That is Peter Medak, who contributes an interview (43:16). This was recorded in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Medak speaks to camera with clips from his films at appropriate points. He takes us from his childhood in Hungary, when he was given a film projector as a present, to his work as an assistant director and then a director. One film he applied to work on as an assistant, unsuccessfully, was The Haunting, but he was able to observe some of the filming and to talk to director Robert Wise, experience which paid off when Medak directed his own supernatural horror film, The Changeling. While he was an assistant director in London’s East End on Sparrows Can’t Sing, he met the Kray twins and was at first reluctant to make a film about them, changing his mind when he read Philip Ridley’s screenplay. Medak stops at Romeo is Bleeding, so maybe he will talk about his later career some other time. (He is eighty-three as I write this, and still working.) But there is more than enough here to be going on with.
The commentary is by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who states her interests up front: in particular gender politics especially in genre films. So we have an emphasis on Hilary Henkin’s writing, in this and in her other films. Heller-Nicholas also discusses what now overshadows the film: it was made around the time when Annabella Sciorra was allegedly raped by Harvey Weinstein, something which wasn’t known until she and other women gave testimony against him. So there are definite #MeToo echoes to the film, if in retrospect.
Also on the disc are the film’s trailer (2:06) and a self-navigating stills gallery (3:21).
The BFI’s booklet, available on the first pressing only, runs to twenty-four pages. It begins with an essay (spoiler warning) by Rebecca Feasey which concentrates on the film’s gender politics and Mona’s femme fatale figure and the extent to which her deadliest weapon is her sexuality. The other protagonist is examined in an essay by Lou Thomas called “The Allure of the Big-Screen Bad Cop”. Josephine Botting contributes a three-page biography of Peter Medak and there are full film credits, notes on the extras and stills.