The Parole Officer Review
Steve Coogan brings yet another inept character to the screen, with his first starring role on film, in the hilariously funny The Parole Officer. Coogan plays Simon Garden, a failing Blackpool probation officer, who moves to the Manchester office after pressure from his colleagues. Soon enough, he finds himself framed for a murder he did not commit, with the only way of clearing his name being a C.C.T.V videotape, located in the local bank vault. Rounding up his ex-parolees, including George (Om Puri), Jeff (Steven Waddington), and Colin (Ben Miller) - they plot to break into the vault and find the tape to clear his name.
One of the major dilemmas for Coogan and co-writer Henry Normal, was bringing the ‘Coogan-esque’ humour to the big screen. How could they create a character that would appeal to a broader audience while still satisfying the legion of fans following the now cult television favourites Knowing Me, Knowing You and I’m Alan Partridge? The answer is they do and they don’t. What they have done is create a character that is funny, but they fail to bring out much originality in him. Simon Garden, the latest creation by the writing pair, is basically a mellowed Partridge without the ironic edge. However, this really isn’t a bad thing because the brilliant one liners are still evident and Coogan’s comedy timing, and keen eye for physical histrionics, warm to fans expectation and leave even the most hardened viewer at least raising a smile. Although, you could argue that a so-called ‘hardened’ viewer, or a person not part of the cult following Coogan has acquired, wouldn’t even be watching the film in the first place, and I can’t really blame them. The plot is a by-the-numbers, been there-done that affair, and apart from Coogan’s appeal, there isn’t much else to bring in a tidy box office draw. It is unfortunate, because once bums are on seats and the film begins to play, there isn’t a whole lot not to enjoy.
It is the film’s leading characters that are the joy here. Puri, Waddington, Miller and Emma Williams are a lively bunch of misfits, brought together by the fact they have all being ex-clients of Garden. The actors excel in their roles, playing them with a perfect blend of dry wit and ironic interplay, largely thanks to director John Duigan, and Coogan/Normal’s script. Even though the script might plod the narrative in places, and feel like it’s an imitation of several other movies, the back-story of Garden’s gang and interplay between them, is superbly brought to the screen. At times, while the plot is taking us elsewhere, you get the feeling you want them all back in one place so they can argue and bicker some more. The rest of the cast don’t really register however, with Lena Headey providing a bland love interest, and Steven Dillane not exuding anything like the menace the script calls for, in the role of leading bad guy. Jenny Agutter, still looking beautiful twenty one years after her appearance in An American Werewolf In London, has a small part with nothing more to do than read her lines and look glum. Perhaps a wry homage to ‘An American Werewolf’, as we first meet her in an old cottage situated in the middle of nowhere, in the Yorkshire/Lancashire moors. Or maybe it’s just a nod to that other superb British comedy television series doing the rounds at the moment, The League Of Gentlemen. Certainly, nods to other films are prominent, with certain aspects loosely based on The Italian Job with Uncut magazine proclaiming on the DVD box – ‘The Italian Job with Bicycles’. Perhaps not, but as this shows, comments like that get you on the back of a DVD! Also, the mediocre action scenes have James Bond written all over them.
John Duigan has an average day out at the office with this film. He can’t turn the support players into anything other than bland caricatures, only there to push the story along. You could blame the script for this, but he doesn’t help matters with his plain direction. As with the writers, the director, seems much more happier directing the leading character’s interplay, than worrying about other aspects of the film. Admittedly though, the film’s major concern is making its audience laugh, and in this area it does itself proud. It is difficult to criticise a film like this, because it is easy to jump on the fact there are plot holes, or that the support cast are as bland as carrots without gravy, but the simple fact is, the film is very funny and it was made to be funny, so it does basically all it set out to do. In all fairness, it is one of the funniest British comedies of late, and regardless of all else, it is an enjoyable, ninety-minute time filler.
The picture on the disc is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is enhanced for 16:9 television screens. The quality of the picture is of the highest standard, which we would hope to expect these days, especially with brand new films, but sadly many do not hold up to close scrutiny. This one however, does. Colours are well presented looking reasonably vibrant given the generally bland photography and set design. The picture is sharp, with no obvious edge enhancement or other digital problems. The print used, as you’d expect, is crystal clear.
The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1, but although the rear speakers are receiving sound, you’d be hard pushed to hear it. That’s a little harsh, given the sound quality is good, with the music and action sequences utilising the 5.1 channels reasonably well, but apart from the odd moment, the spectrum is mainly frontal based. It’s way better than plain stereo, but a reference disc this isn’t.
Now on to the extras and we are given are nice little selection even if it doesn’t break the boundaries of the medium. The first thing to mention is the menu screen which is accompanied by a voice over by Steve Coogan, very much like the This Is Spinal Tap DVD. It is quite funny the first time you hear it, but on consequent visits it becomes a little tedious. The problem is, you can’t bypass it – you have to listen to it each time you start the disc up.
Audio Commentary - Featuring Steve Coogan, John Duigan, Henry Normal and Duncan Kenworthy. The commentary is enjoyable with some good information and anecdotes, but I was put off by the hollow sounding recording, as if they were all speaking into one microphone while sitting in a fairly large room. Nevertheless, it is worth a listen with the group chatting like a bunch of friends.
22 Minute Behind The Scenes Featurette - This is surprisingly very good, staying away from the usual patting on each others backs. Coogan especially, chats about the concept, pre-production and writing comedy in general, which is very interesting. Most of the major actors contribute. The featurette is presented in 4:3 full frame.
Deleted Scenes - Six deleted scenes are presented on the disc. It is easy to see why most were cut, but I wouldn’t mind seeing two out of the six staying in the final cut for, if nothing else, their comedy value. You have the option of watching the scenes with or without a commentary, however, the commentary doesn’t shed much light on the scenes nor is it very well recorded. The main audio commentary’s sound quality wasn’t great, but the deleted scenes commentary sounds phoned in! The deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Theatrical Trailer - A funny trailer that highlights actually how many laugh-out-loud moments there are in the film, because there are plenty that don’t make this two minute promotional piece. The trailer is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Atomic Kitten ‘Eternal Flame’ Music Video - The three kittens cover ‘Eternal Flame’, with bits of the film shoved in the music video. The video is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The Parole Officer is one of the best British comedies of late. It will certainly satisfy Coogan fans, and will provide everyone else with a tidy time filler. The film comes to region 2 DVD, with very good quality sound and vision, and accompanied by some interesting extras. While the television viewing public eagerly await the new series of I’m Alan Partridge, the character’s creator's first film in a lead role provides a very enjoyable ninety minutes to bridge the gap.