Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy

1990.  Directed by Warren Beatty.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Warren Beatty's comic book come to life, hyper-noir is a clinic on world building and presentation.

Based on the 1930's comic strip, Dick Tracy is the only cop who can take down Big Boy Caprice and his odd ball gang of human caricatures.   Along the way he gains a surrogate son and tangles with Breathless Mahoney, the ultimate femme fatale.  Dodging bullets, double crosses, and corruption, Tracy pursues the bad guys relentlessly, showing the city that there are still true heroes left to root for.  

The cast of this film is a living stacked deck.  Beatty himself plays Tracy while Madonna plays the foil, Breathless.  Their chemistry is equal parts ludicrous and perfect for the gangster wonderland environs of the story.  Glenn Headley, Charlie Korsmo, and the legendary Dick Van Dyke round out the "good guys', but it is the villains who steal the show.

Al Pacino is terrific as Big Boy Caprice.  This is one of the few times that Pacino's overacting is pitch perfect.  He is the eye of the storm that is more insane than the thugs who surround him.  He delivers a sound and fury performance that he is known for, but here, in this imaginary neon cityscape it's perfection.  Dustin Hoffman, Paul Sorvino, William Forsythe, Ed O' Ross, Catherine O' Hara, Mandy Patankin, and James Caan finish up the villainous roster with memorable supporting roles.

The film won the Oscar for Best Song, Best Makeup, and Best Art Direction, making it the comic book film with the most academy awards and it's easy to see why.  Madonna's voice is flawless showing that Stephen Sondheim's songs were tailored for her.  Richard Sylbert's world building is a visual wonder.  The sets, the city, the lights, all of it done with a palette of just seven colors.  This is supported by Vittorio Storaro's nominated cinematography and given life by Milena Canonero's brilliant (and also nominated) costume design.  

Doug Drexler's character makeup is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the film.  Winning the Oscar and supported by the great Ve Neill, the makeup is what brings these larger than life villains to the fore.  Every criminal is named after their physical appearance and the makeup is sensational.  It's awe inducing how the cartoonish features blend seamlessly into the film, forcing a visual acceptance of the bizarre as everyday personas within Tracy's storybook speakeasy metropolis. 

If there's a flaw it's in the script.  Jim Cash and Jack Epps' story relies entirely on the eye bursting visual house of cards that surrounds a very basic and ultimately predictable hero story, but honestly, you're too busy gasping in delight to care.  

Available on blu ray, Dick Tracy is a fun, nostalgic trip into the land of ago.  Unlike many of the current comic book films, Warren Beatty's heart filled homage wears it's simplistic charm like the badge of it's titular hero.  This is a film that reminds you that it's OK to enjoy a movie without deep implications and that heroes don't always brood.  Sometimes, they just take down the bad buys and get the girl.  

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