REINDEER GAMES: DVD
Car thief Rudy (Ben Affleck) is about to be paroled from prison.
His cell mate Nick (James Frain), who is also due for release,
has been corresponding with Ashley (Charlize Theron). Ashley has
fallen in love with Nick and promises she will be waiting for him
on the outside. When Nick is killed in a prison riot, Rudy
assumes his identity. Complications set in when Ashley's criminal
brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) arrives and demands that "Nick"
take part in a heist at a casino where the real Nick once worked.
To stay alive Rudy must maintain his adopted persona and devise a
plan to pull of the robbery for real.
After a smashing return to form with Ronin, hopes were high that
John Frankenheimer would deliver another knockout with Reindeer
Games. Although an improvement on the version released
theatrically, this Director's Cut is still saddled with the same
ludicrous plot no amount of Frankenheimer flair can overcome.
The only believable element of this throwback to film noir is Ben
Affleck's decision to adopt his dead friend's identity in order
to score some sack time with Charlize Theron. Funny how she never
even had a picture of the real Nick, whom she met in the pages of
a prisoner's contact magazine (is this available at newsagents?)
Had this been done in the 40s such plot contrivances might be
acceptable but as we watch this in the age of DVD technology how
are we supposed to believe in the Nick switcheroo or think that a
casino wouldn't have security cameras in the carpark that would
spot a gang unloading rifles from a boot in broad daylight.
It gets worse as bad guy Gabriel spends the whole film finding
weak reasons to keep the impostor (and the implausible plot)
alive when it's obvious to everyone there's a bad imitation going
on. Reindeer Games at least looks good in a crisp 2.35:1 transfer
and is worth renting for the Frankenheimer commentary alone. His
candour is amazing as he talks about the changes he reluctantly
made after public previews indicated the film was too long. 'In
retrospect, I should not have cut the movie' he says, adding
'you, the audience were cheated' by the studio imposed changes.
He also mentions how we'll be able to see the affected scenes, as
they were cut for the release version, after the movie has
finished. Unfortunately these sequences do not appear after the
end credits or anywhere else on the disc. Very disappointing and
it makes you wonder what else is missing from Australian DVD
If you love films and haven't already seen Reindeer Games, watch
it and then watch the DVD with Frankenheimer's commentary. He
reveals it as not the theatrical release (at least as the
Americans saw it), but a later, unedited version. He points out
almost every addition and subtraction, explaining the reasons
why, and which he thinks is better. It's a rare, honest appraisal
of the filmmaking process, making this otherwise routine thriller
worthwhile on DVD.
"I feel that the preview process hurt this movie," he
admits. "I cannot tell you how difficult it is to spend ten
months of your life making a film and having these research
people take over. It's devastating. I feel that you the audience
were the people eventually cheated. This (DVD) version really
represents the film that I set out to make; an edgy, hard movie.
The released version lost a lot of its edge and was much softer
than the movie I had originally directed."
As Frankenheimer reveals, this dark, violent crime caper was
virtually ruined by the "pressure on me to cut the movie,"
and his commentary makes it easy to see why. Simple things like
the lighting on Theron's face changes our opinion of her. Staying
with a scene can establish why characters do the things they do
later on. Nope. Too long, too complicated, and too violent for
the test audience, and so the studios (Miramax, Dimension) demand
A weaker, disjointed movie results, though it was perhaps a poor
film either way. Affleck is too clean cut to be a convict, and
the reason he goes along with the plan goes begging. Likewise,
Theron seems too beautiful for her character. And it's not
revealed why such vicious crooks go to great lengths to rob a
tacky casino until the very (disappointing) end.
Still, Frankenheimer praises his cast, especially Sinise ("One
of the three finest actor's I've ever worked with"). He's
also proud of getting Isaac Hayes to eat a bug in prison, and his
favourite NFL linebacker for a bit part.
Interestingly, Frankenheimer notes he had a similar response from
test audiences on Ronin, though the studio allowed it to be
released with only a minor change. This twisting crime caper
compared to that classy, layered espionage thriller? Even his
commentary was more gripping then.
Shannon J. Harvey
Published August 30, 2001
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REINDEER GAMES (MA)
STARS: Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise, Dennis Farina,
James Frain, Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III.
DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer
SCRIPT: Ehren Kruger
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2001
SPECIAL FEATURES: Director John Frankenheimer's commentary;
Behind the scenes featurette; Trailer, Cast and crew biographies;
21 scene selections; Dolby Digital 5.1; Subtitles for hearing
impaired; Original widescreen presentation