The January Man Review

The Film

One of the first things you notice about The January Man is the impressive cast list – before you even start to watch the film you know you're about to see Kevin Kline, Harvey Keitel, Rod Steiger, Danny Aiello, Susan Sarandon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Alan Rickman all together in one film. That's quite some expectation to be building up…

The film was released in 1989 and was directed by Pat O'Connor (Circle of Friends, Sweet November) and written by John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck, Alive). It is yet another serial killer film, but one with comedy and relationships tossed into the mix for good measure... and not in a wholly successful manner. Despite this, I still quite enjoyed it – although mine seems to be very much the minority opinion when it comes to this particular film, so be warned.

The January Man tells the story of Nick Starkey (Kevin Kline), a prodigal detective who is no longer with the force due to a scandal some years back involving bribery... so as the film begins we find Nick now working as a fireman instead. Meanwhile, the NYPD are having no luck tracking down a serial killer in their jurisdiction, one who has killed one woman every month for the past eleven months, and looks set to round out an even dozen in the coming month (January, thus the show's title).

However, when December's victim turns out to be a close friend of the mayor's daughter, it comes as little surprise to the audience that he (boisterously overacted by Rod Steiger) demands that highly-unorthodox super sleuth Nick be reinstated so the case can be solved ASAP. The problem with bringing Nick back is that the Police Commissioner is his brother Frank (Harvey Keitel), and there are some serious relationship issues between the two siblings, not the least of which is a long-standing rivalry over Frank's now-wife (Susan Sarandon).

Another obstacle in Nick's way is Police Chief Vincent Alcoa (Danny Aiella) who strongly believes all of the past allegations regarding Nick's malfeasance and who therefore doesn't hold much respect for him or his 'beatnik' methods. So Nick ends up enlisting the help of a laidback artist friend of his (played perfectly by Alan Rickman) and the mayor's daughter (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) in an effort to catch the killer before he can claim another victim.

The film consists of lots of scattered elements, not to mention many relationships to explain and to resolve during its short (97 minute) running time. In addition, it has a serial killer to catch in a believable manner while somehow also serving as a vehicle for comedic scenes by Kline and Rickman... and this doesn't quite work. (Nor does it help that the process by which Kline's character works out the next intended victim is laughably unbelievable.) It's over-ambitious and loses track of all it hopes to achieve – specifically, I'd say that it endeavours to be a drama and a comedy at the same time and fails to make much headway in either genre – but it's still a reasonably watchable film in my opinion, however low-key and messy.

Although generally advertised as a killer comedy, I enjoyed the film more for the cast and some of the small funny moments they snuck in. You never doubt that the killer will be caught, and so the investigations are a little glossed over to make way for an attempt at characterisation that is also a little rushed. But everyone does their best to make it believable and to compensate for a rather weak script. Particularly good is Alan Rickman, who again tends to steal scenes and shows every bit why he's so charming to watch in action.


As the film is a little old (yes, I know, 1989 isn't very old at all), there is some grain in the picture, which is otherwise pretty good with no real problems. There doesn't seem to be any pixellation or background macroblocking, and most of the time the image comes across as pretty crisp. Colours are strong and shadows and dark colours are just as deep, important mainly because a lot of the film takes place at night. This is a widescreen presentation with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and – thankfully – the disc is anamorphic.


The soundrack is Dolby 2.0, which is fine but hardly spectacular. Voices are clear above the soundtrack (which is a little 80s in tone and feel). Given the age and hardly A-list status of the film it is unsurprising the soundtrack received no special attention, but it also won't ruin any enjoyment you do take from this film.


The only extra here is a somewhat naff trailer that doesn't succeed in giving a good overview of the film... even if it avoids ruining the plot (which is a bonus!). Nor is the disc's menu anything to shout about, being static and fairly unexciting.


Most commentators seem to hate The January Man with something of a passion. They denounce it as a film that completely failed to live up to its potential and which instead merely offers the viewer a mish-mash of comedy, relationship drama and serial killing. Having seen it, I can certainly recognise the flaws – the nonsensical plot devices, the lack of any clear idea what kind of film it wants to be, etc. – but I still derived good entertainment value out of viewing it. Not as an intellectual pastime, mind you, but as a fun piece of pap with an interesting cast to watch.

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