Six Degrees of Separation Review
Any self respecting movie geek has sat in the pub at some point and played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, it’s a simple game whereby you try to connect and Hollywood actor or director to Kevin Bacon in six steps, based on films they have made together. The idea for which came from this, Six Degrees of Separation, and its theory that every person on the planet, from an Eskimo to a Aborigine, can be connected by a chain of six people to each other. It seems however that some links feature in a lot more chains than others.
The Kitteridges are a rich uptown New York couple, Flan (Donald Sutherland) and Ousia (Stockard Channing) are art dealers of a peculiar kind, in that they never buy anything, nor do they have a gallery. They wine and dine investors to get the millions they need for rare works of art, and swiftly move them from a private collection to a far flung foreign auction, hoping to turn make a fast buck – or even a fast million. Geoffrey (Ian McKellen) is one such investor, a South African millionaire with a string of gold mines to his name, he doesn’t have the change on him to pay for dinner but he might just be willing to give the Kitteridges $2,000,000 to buy a painting, all they have to do is impress him over dinner.
Their s a slight wrinkle in their plan however, as when they are about to leave for dinner their doorman arrives with a young man – Paul (Will Smith) - bruised and bleeding he claims to have been mugged in Central Park, and has sought refuge with the Kitteridges because he attends Harvard with their children. Naturally they have to help him despite not knowing if he’s genuinely a friend of their children, but while his wounds are treated his story unfolds, not just any young man he claims his father is Sidney Poitier, and that he was in New York to begin casting a movie version of Cats with his father. Whether his claims are true or not one thing is for sure, Paul is quite the charmer, he keeps everyone enthralled all evening – including Geoffrey – even making them dinner himself, and the Kitteridges offer him a bed for the night. But when they awake Paul is caught in an act that is in no way befitting of his apparently cultured lifestyle, and he’s escorted from the building, threatened with the police.
Naturally this encounter will make for a fantastic story at cocktail party after cocktail party, and soon as the details of their evening are revealed their friends are shocked, though not because of Paul’s behaviour, but because he sounds more than a little familiar to them all. Ouisa won’t let matters lie though, despite Paul having vanished from their lives she is determined to get to bottom of the affair, and discover the connection between Paul and their circle of friends.
Adapting a stage play is always a difficult prospect, as by nature they rely on performance rather than spectacle, and though director Fred Schepisi has chosen some magnificent surroundings for the film it is inevitably a less than exciting visual affair, but thankfully the performances are enough to hold the attention. While certainly an ensemble piece, with the list of big names you’ll recognise equalled by familiar faces, the stand out performer is Smith. This was a very early role for him, obviously eager to avoid typecasting, putting The Fresh Prince of Bel Air behind him, and prove he could really act, this is a role he could put his teeth into. With such an excellent dramatic performance it’s beguiling that he’s ended up making endlessly repetitive blockbusters all these years. He dominates the screen whenever he’s on it and the film misses his presence whenever he’s not, his Catcher in the Rye monologue will have you gripped, regardless of your familiarity with the book, and he’s totally believable not only as a silver tongued charmer, but also an educated gentleman. John Guare’s script, adapted from his own play, is certainly one for the educated viewer, those of us without a Harvard education may well need to keep a dictionary to hand while the educated folk show off, and if the performances are put aside it’s a somewhat uneventful story, which isn’t really as insightful, clever or touching as it would have you believe.
It certainly makes for a gripping couple of hours viewing, despite the varying pace, but when you’ve discovered how the story unfolds, and the relationships have been mapped out, there will be little making you want to return to the film, though odds are you’ll want to go and pick up a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, the film has probably seen better days. There is a moderate level of grain pervading the image and dirt and print damage isn’t uncommon, though never severe. The colours also seem slightly muted, which is a shame given the often bold set design, though MGM have obviously put their best efforts into the disc as the bitrate could hardly be higher, I doubt this film could look better on DVD without an expensive remastering process its stature cannot justify.
The English soundtrack has een remastered to Dolby Digital 5.1 from its original stereo, though naturally uses of the extra channels are slight but it does a good job with the material – though it never has to work too hard. Jerry Goldsmith’s score compliments the film excellently and fills out the sound field very well in a mainly dialogue driven film, though there are some nice uses of sound steering making the film as engulfing as possible.
As is standard with MGM (and many studios) back catalogue releases the only extra present on the disc. It is in anamorphic widescreen but the print makes the main film look positively pristine, and it strikes me as a film the studio wasn’t quite sure how to market as the trailer isn’t the best representation of the film.
Whilst the play is held in some esteem, the film will never be as famous as the game it has inspired, and sadly this means it is unlikely we’ll ever see a better edition of the film on DVD. It’s certainly a film worth seeing, and the low price will tempt those curious to see Will Smith prove he can do more than look good with a gun, but as the film lacks the appeal for repeated viewing it’s not a disc I can recommend purchasing, though it is certainly a fine rental prospect.