• Romeo Is Bleeding

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: June 28th, 2016.
    Director: Peter Medek
    Cast: Roy Scheider, Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Anabella Sciorra, Juliette Lewis, David Proval, Will Patton
    Year: 1993
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Directed by Peter Medek and written by Hilary Henkin, 1993’s Romeo Is Bleeding stars Gary Oldman as a New York City cop named Jack Grimaldi. Unbeknownst to his fellow officers of the law, Jack has been playing both sides of the fence, selling information to a prominent crime lord named Falcone (Roy Scheider) for a cool sixty-five grand in cash every time. He stores this cash in a hole in his back yard behind the house where he lives with his wife, Natalie (Annabella Sciorra). He feels compelled to feed it. The hole that is. But he doesn’t spend much of the loot, even if he does surprise his wife with a new Polaroid camera. He doesn’t seem to spend that much time at home, however – he seems more interested in playing around with his cute, dim mistress, a young blonde woman named Sheri (Juliette Lewis). Jack is, in a word, a bastard.

    He gets away with things, or so he thinks, until he meets a gangster named Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin). Assigned to transport her to a hotel for safekeeping, things quickly get out of hands between the two of them. When his fellow officers break in and find her on top of him, we don’t really know if they interrupted some rough sex or wound up saving his life. While the attraction may be there, it doesn’t stop Jack from accepting some money from Falcone to help make Mona go away. Of course, once Mona finds out about this, she offers him a better deal. Or does she?

    Romeo Is Bleeding (which is named after the Tom Waits song of the same name – that’s why he’s thanked in the end credits) is frequently accused of going too far over the top to the point where it ceases to be film noir and starts to become satire. And those accusations are not incorrect, at least to a point. Clearly the censorship restrictions that were in place during the boom years of American film noir don’t apply here. Where we would have had innuendo aplenty and more subtle depictions of the sordid side of life we instead get it full throttle, to the point where the movie is awash in sex and violence. But for some, that’s not a bad thing. This is a movie that puts entertainment front and center and while it’s an incredibly stylish and briskly paced film, there’s a good story arc and solid character development here. So what if that character development frequently plays to one cliché after the next? A dirty cop, a neglected wife, a dim and manipulated mistress and the requisite femme fatale? They’re all here, complete with some hammy narration - and we wouldn’t want it any other way, particularly when there’s as much wicked humor worked into the dialogue as there is here.

    But at least we feel for them. For all his faults, Jack’s appealing in his own way. He’s crooked, greedy and he thinks with his dick more than his head or his heart but there’s something scrappy about him that makes us what to see him make it through all of this. Oldman plays the part perfectly, nailing the New York accent and never less than completely convincing in the part. In a scene where it’s all hit the fan and he’s saying goodbye to his wife, he tears up. She doesn’t fall for it but we do - and while he has really and truly brought all of this on himself, you wind up wanting him to win the day. This contrasts beautifully with Lena Olin. As Mona Demarkov she is as manipulative and evil as she sexy and mysterious. Looking ever so fine in some remarkably appealing lingerie, you have no trouble, not even for a second, understanding why she’s able to work men over the way that she does. And given Jack’s penchant for promiscuity, we know he’s in trouble the instant he lays eyes on her. These two have chemistry like fire and gasoline.

    The supporting players are every bit as good. Roy Scheider’s unusually leatherish face sees him well cast as an aging crimelord. He’s both arrogant and intimidating here, coming off as classy in both appearance and style, but not above having his men cut your toe off. Annabella Sciorra is pitch-perfect in an understated performance. We feel for her character, she’s in a sticky situation, but we never get the impression that she isn’t smart enough to deal with things her own way. And she does. There’s something to be said for the more subtle way she brings Natalie to life compared to the more energetic work shown by the two leads. Juliette Lewis is fairly adorable here as Sheri. She dreams of becoming Jack’s wife and only has eyes for him. When we first meet her all she’s trying to do is make him happy. The only way she knows how to do that is through sex, but at least she tries and it would seem occasionally succeeds. Small parts for Michael Wincott, Dennis Farina and Ron Perlman round things out nicely.

    The New York City locations, mostly Brooklyn and Queens rather than Manhattan, are nicely photographed. The seedy side of town is well captured here, what with the scuzzy motel and run down riverside warehouse/factory locations playing a big part in where the action takes place. There’s some great footage of Coney Island here too, including a scene (featured in the trailer) where Jack is screaming for his life inside a car on the inner track of the Wonder Wheel. If you’ve ever been in one of those inner track cars, which sway to and fro as the whole thing creaks around you, sounding like it’s about to topple at any second, you’ll know why – and that’s without the added pressure of his circumstances shoveled into the equation! The Brooklyn Bridge is shot like the iconic that it is, almost worshiped, in a one of the film’s key scenes (that we won’t spoil here) – the beauty of the architecture and of the East River and surrounding cityscape providing a fantastic contrast to the horrors taking place. There’s visual contrast throughout the film – Mona in her fancy stockings and garters, dressed to the nines, in a fleabag hotel room. Jack, injured and limping and really just freaking out with no one else around him, going nuts against the quiet. Moments like this punctuate the film nicely.

    So yeah, fine. It’s overcooked, it’s gratuitously violent and completely oversexed. It deals almost strictly in clichés of the genre and it twists and turns to ridiculous extremes. Maybe it is meant to be more than a little satirical. But when it’s this much fun and this riotously entertaining, what does it matter? Love this one for what it is, not what it isn’t.


    Romeo Is Bleeding arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film’s proper 1.85.1 aspect ratio. Mild print damage shows up here and there in the form of small specks but for the most part the picture is pretty clean looking. Detail is definitely advanced over standard definition although there are some shots that look to have been shot a bit softer than others – which isn’t a problem, it’s just part of the look of the movie. Most of the time, however, the picture is crisp and shows good depth and delineation. Color reproduction is very strong here while black levels are nice and deep but not at the expense of shadow detail. There are no noticeable issues with edge enhancement, compression artifacts or noise reduction and all in all, the movie looks very nice here.

    An English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track handles the audio chores nicely. The track is nicely balanced offering solid channel separation. The trumpet-heavy score sounds crystal clear while dialogue is easily discernable and always properly upfront in the mix. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the sound effects, gun shots in particular, have good punch and weight behind them. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extras are limited to a trailer for the feature, an MGM 90th Anniversary trailer, an isolated score and effects track, static menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray case is an insert booklet containing an essay on the film from Julie Kirgo. She notes the film’s obvious noir influences but also offers some thoughts on the film’s tendency to go over the top compared to many of the pictures that clearly inspired it, while also making some solid observations about the effectiveness of the cast and the wardrobe. A good read, as always.

    The Final Word:

    Romeo Is Bleeding is a gleefully over the top neo-noir that is as slick looking as it is relentlessly entertaining. The direction is both polished and assured, the locations are prefect and the cast really delivers, Oldman and Olin in particular. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray disc is light on extras but it looks and sounds quite nice. This is one well worth revisiting in HD!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!