True Lies Review
Ever since the occasionally enjoyable but hideously self-indulgent exercise in cinematic vanity that was Titanic, James Cameron has been something of a whipping boy amongst film lovers, with many aspects of his films being criticised. In some cases, these are justified, such as his fondness for 'director's cuts', which add little to the film (as with Terminator 2 and, arguably, Aliens, although the longer version of The Abyss is a vast improvement), as well as his weak dialogue. However, he is unquestionably a master of action direction, which is just as well in the case of True Lies, as that is pretty much the raison d'etre of the film.
The plot owes something both to the James Bond films of the Connery era and the French film La Totale, which the film was 'influenced' by. Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) is a spy, who is obliged to tell his wife (Curtis) and daughter (Dushku) that he is a computer salesman. Unfortunately, he becomes involved with an especially nasty group of Arab terrorists, as led by Aziz (Malik), as well as starting to suspect his wife's fidelity. Hilarity and violence ensue.
As a straightforward action film, this is a considerable success. Although Cameron isn't half as good a director of beautifully choreographed violence as Sam Peckinpah or John Woo, he excels at the kind of tense, operatic set pieces that were present in spades in The Terminator films and Aliens, and are here as well. From the opening, which is an amusingly OTT pastiche of the Bond pre-credits sequence, to the truly staggering 40-minute triple climax that ends the film, there is no doubt that the film succeeds gobsmackingly well on a purely visceral level, with stunt after stunt eliciting the reaction 'How on earth did they do that?' In these increasingly jaded and cynical times, that is a remarkable achievement.
Unfortunately, there are two main flaws with the film. The first is that, post September 11th, its portrayal of Arab terrorists would be queasy at best, but unfortunately Cameron does little more than show them as gun-waving but incompetent fanatics, with no more plot purpose than to do things badly, be shot, and die horribly, often while screaming 'Allah!' Even in action film terms, they are not as successful an antagonist as Schwarzenegger or Robert Patrick in the Terminator films, or even the forces of 'nature' in Titanic and The Abyss. The other main flaw has already been much discussed and criticised; namely, the subplot in which Tasker spies on his wife, eventually humiliating her and interrogating her. I wouldn't say that this is the misogynistic exercise that some critics have described it as, but it does nothing for the plot momentum (something that all Cameron's films from Aliens onwards have had problems with.)
Carping aside, the film is generally very good fun, albeit with the usual flaws of this kind of stuff, such as the weak dialogue (although with some very funny one-liners from Tom Arnold), haphazard plotting, and offensive racism. All are entirely valid criticisms; whether the sheer brio with which the film is constructed is enough to compensate is for the individual to decide.
A splendid anamorphic transfer is provided by Columbia. Although not THX-certified like the non-anamorphic R1 version, this is a remarkably strong picture, with clear, vivid colours and no evidence of print damage or excessive grain. Needless to say, it looks terrific throughout, thanks to the strong cinematography, with Cameron's patented use of dark blue filters coming across very well.
A superb 5.1 mix is provided, which highlights every bang, bullet ricochet and nuclear explosion coming across incredibly well. While perhaps not as good a test disc as some of the more aggressive DTS discs currently available, this is still a fine job, and it's highly liable to upset the neighbours if played too loudly.
Only a trailer, which is of little interest in itself, but this is also the fully uncut version of the film, with around thirty seconds more violence than the UK version, which makes several of the action scenes more coherent, especially the superb fight in the gent's toilet early in the film. A special edition was rumoured for R1 last year, but has been put on ice since September 11th.
One for James Cameron fans and action film lovers, this is an entertaining action adventure spoilt by racist and misogynistic undertones that simply don't work very well in the context of the film. The disc is excellent technically, although lacking in extras; however, this is currently the best version of the film available, and recommended on that basis.
Recommended R4 Suppliers include: EzyDVD, FBO