I was looking through a long forgotten drawer in my room and came across a selection of videos and DVDs that I didn’t even remember owning. Filled with mostly forgettable films like The Tuxedo (a Jackie Chan/James Bond knock-off) and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, one film stood out; Dick Tracy. I picked the film out of the drawer and decided to watch it.
Dick Tracy stars Warren Beatty, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo and Al Pacino and is directed by Warren Beatty. Based on the classic 1930s comic strip of the same name, the film follows police detective Dick Tracy (Beatty) as he takes on a colourful array of gangsters led by “Big Boy” Caprice (Pacino).
I did a bit of research on the original comic strip before I started this review, and I can say that the film sticks closely to the characters from the comic in look and design. In the comic, each character is over-designed with a specific feature and colour, making them instantly recognisible. It means with get characters with names like Lips, Little Face, Flattop and The Brow, each one grotesquely different and easily identifiable, with their name being their general description. Praise should be given to the make-up department (who won an Oscar for Best Makeup) who create these fantastic prosthetics that look very similar to the comic strip origins, giving many of the secondary characters memorable looks.
The connection with the original comic strip can also be seen in the overall design of the film. As director, Warren Beatty chose to try and make the film with a palette of only seven colours. This, along with the matte paintings of the skyline of“ The City” (no really, that’s it’s name) makes the film feel just like a moving comic strip, almost fifteen years before Sin City made waves in the film industry for doing the same thing.
Dick Tracy is apparently set in the 1930s, but the film plays mostly as a pastiche of the old Hollywood films from the era of hard-boiled detectives and private eyes. Warren Beatty plays Dick Tracy as the same hard-nosed, soft hearted cop that you’ve seen a thousand times, and Madonna plays the role of the femme fatale Breathless like one of Hitchcock’s infamous blonde beauties, meaning she can’t act but looks great on screen. The film continues it’s pastiche style when Al Pacino (known for his violent gangster roles such as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone from Scarface and The Godfather respectively) turns up as head gangster Big Boy Caprice, chewing scenery and quoting historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in a bid to look cleverer than he actually is.
But for all the amazing visual design and the large ensemble cast made of great actors, (the previously mentioned Beatty and Pacino, but also Dustin Hoffman, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin and Dick Van Dyke) the film feels really plastic and fake. The sets look like they could be knocked down by a gust of wind, and the seven palette colour tone, while striking at the beginning, makes the some of the sets interchangeable.
The acting is of two halves, with some actors being monotone and wooden and some overacting their little hearts out. Beatty and Madonna fall into the former category, coming off as boring and disinterested in everything that happens around them. The rest of the cast, mainly the gangsters, police officers and the journalists are just rolling with the daftness of the film and playing it up to eleven, meaning there is this strange dissonance when the two styles of acting meet. But the main problem with Dick Tracy for me is that it just drags. The film is 105 minutes, but it feels a lot more than that. The final act, while thoroughly entertaining, just keeps going and going until you stop caring about the machine gun fire and explosions that litter the final twenty minutes.
In summary, Dick Tracy is fun in the beginning, but begins to slow down past the halfway point. If you’re a fan of the Hollywood films of the 30s, or looking for a comic book adaptation that isn’t about superheroes, then I would recommend it.
Score: 6/10 Looks good, but is a bit forgettable.