Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy is a showpiece of post-production work: the matte shots by Leon Harris, Tom Gilleon, Paul Lasaine, David Mattingly, Michelle Moen and Peter Ellenshaw, the musical score by Danny Elfman, the sound editing guided by Dennis Drummond (who gets a justly prominent credit) and the sound editing effects supervised by older brother Patrick Drummond and assisted by Carol Ellison, Dennis Giammarco and Joan Giammarco are of such high caliber that you’re experiencing the combined labor as junk museum artistry. For Patrick Drummond, who’s done Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, Broadcast News, A League of Their Own, Boyz in the Hood, Evening Star, The Preacher’s Wife, As Good As It Gets and of late Bewitched, the effects amount to a near-pinnacle of career work: in the sequence in which Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice plans on killing Beatty’s Tracy by rigging a steamy boiler to explode, viewers are entralled by the clarity, precision and thrilling rightness of the effects of the steam building to its cresendo—we swell to the comic book momentum, enjoying immensely the technical skill. (It’s equal to or surpasses the Sensurround nonsense of Earthquake, the sound of the train in The Deer Hunter, the horrifying birth prangs of the pods in the second Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the phone ringing in The Right Stuff.) The on-set look of Dick Tracy is pretty impressive too: the popadelic design by Richard Sylbert and art direction by Harold Michelson and set decoration by Rick Simpson; the red, green, blue, yellow, orange and lavender ensemble outfits and Madonna’s breathless gowns by Milena Canonero, and most particularly those sensationally lit streets and stunning cosmetics by John Caglione Jr., Doug Drexler and 17 others have awards written all of them. (And winning Oscars for art direction, make-up, and Stephen Sondheim’s song “Sooner or Later.”) But something goes a little wrong: we’re not quite as involved in the story as we are in the externals. Perhaps a couple of reasons for this: one, Beatty decided to cast himself as square Tracy—Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro were originally offered the role—and the bitchy rumors about his vanity are true in that he repeatedly filmed his close-ups to assuage his fears of aging. Not a bad performance, it just doesn’t matter much; he’s succumbed to insecure movie goddess syndrome and he and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro are to blame for the audience being acutely aware of the tricks. Second, and with no objection, the cast is loaded with way too many clever bits by expert scene stealers: Kathy Bates, James Caan, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Dustin Hoffman, Catherine O'Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mandy Patinkin, Michael J. Pollard, John Schuck, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, Dick Van Dyke, to say nothing about how we can’t keep our eyes off those classic Chester Gould effigies. Pacino’s having a ball as a hunched-over, fat-fannied villain and Madonna’s “don’t you want to frisk me” sultriness is quite charming. The kid in all of us will forgive what’s deficient from a Hollywood king because he’s made one super-pleasing eye-popper from start to finish. Estimated cost to make: $47 million; domestic gross $104 million. First feature to be made in digital sound.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.