BR: No Man’s Land (1987)

January 11, 2014 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras:  Very Good

Label: KL Studio Classics

Region:  A

Released: July 18, 2017

Genre: Action / Suspense

Synopsis: A young undercover cop begins to enjoy the high life of his target, and starts to fall for the pretty, sophisticated sister.

Special Features: Audio Commentary by writer-director Steve Mitchell and film historian-Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson / “Lifestyles of the rich & Aimless” Interview with director Peter Werner” (16:15) + “Buckle Up & Drive” Interview with star D. B. Sweeney (15:58).

 

 

Review:

Filmed soon after Charlie Sheen’s appearance in The Wraith (1986), No Man’s Land is a slick action drama supported by executive producers Ron Howard and Tony Ganz, and features a script by Dick Wolf, then a contributing writer to Hill Street Blues (1985-1986) and especially Miami Vice (1986-1988). With newcomer D.B. Sweeney (fresh from Francis Ford Coppola’s Gardens of Stone) and a supporting cast of excellent character actors (Randy Quaid, Bill Duke, M. Emmett Walsh, unbilled George Dzundza), No Man’s Land was a film that should’ve been seen first in theatres, but seemed to get more attention on pay TV and home video.

Wolf’s script is essentially a familiar tale of a good cop who gets too close to his subject –  gaining his trust and friendship, falling for his pretty sister, and enjoying the perks of high living and fancy cars before tragedy reminds him of his moral anchor point, and his job: to bring down a spoiled rich kid guilty of murder.

Sweeney and Sheen make for a charismatic team of moral opposites, while Lara Harris gives her role of the good sister a bit more depth due to the actress’ own innate sensitive performance style. The car chases involving Porsches crisscross urban and industrial city quarters at fast speeds, and feature rock-solid stunt driving and an editing style that flatters vehicles in motion rather than attention-deficit cuts.

Basil Poledouris’ all-synth score also gooses the films action scenes with grinding, motorized bass chords, and brief moments of formulaic character contemplation – Sweeney’s good boy Benjy (yup, that’s his name) tries to keep his simple personal life separate from his undercover role as an ace mechanic and car alarm expert, and avoid falling for the villain’s sultry sister – are flattered with more somber, self-reflective cues with delicate tones on keyboards.

As limited as Sheen’s character may be (and arguably Sheen’s own skills at the time), he does strike a slick pose, fitting perfectly with the classic and muscle-bound Porsches that spoiled little Ted Varrick steals from turf ‘owned’ by a rival gang led by Frank Martin (Golden Year’s R.D. Call).

The women’s hair and clothes may be big and triangular in classic 80s style, but the set design and cinematography are very specific to understated colour palettes and modernism, which make No Man’s Land much less dated, especially when TV’s Miami Vice was moving from softer pastels to darker shades with now-dated geometric patters and textures.

Hiro Narita’s cinematography is lush without being glitzy, and the soft colour palette with slight pink shading still looks elegant. After being available full screen in North America and widescreen in Britain, KINO’s release finally brings the film to Blu in a gorgeous transfer that’s sharp, balanced, but also reveals the use of high grain film stock used in the night scenes (and weirdly, End Credit scroll). The grain doesn’t detract from the film, but one suspects Werner and Narita opted for faster film stock for the extensive night shots in which characters drive in and around the city.

Both newly recorded interview featurettes offer great anecdotes on the making of the film. Director Werner accepted the assignment from Orion’s Mike Madavoy 3 days prior to filming (!) replacing original director Avi Nesher. Sweeney and Harris were part of Nesher’s original casting choices, and Sheen was added soon after.

Werner recalls the extensive location filming and describes No Man’s Land as a Los Angeles story, shot in industrial areas and an upscale mall. Credits is also given to the film’s superb stunt coordinator and personnel who drove the cars at fast speeds, adding to the film’s production value.

Sweeney’s a bit more candid about the change in directors, script rewrites, and some amusing anecdotes on working with Sheen whose ego was bumped up after he earned an Oscar Nomination for Platoon midway through filming.

More info from an historic perspective comes from a commentary track with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and filmmaker Steve Mitchell who maintain a steady discussion of the film, its talent, and place within the Orion catalogue and the genre pictures that flooded screens large and small during the 1980s. (Mitchell is especially nostalgic for the era’s product, and one can play a drinking game based on his steady use of the nonsensical catch-phrase “Back in the Day”.)

Dick Wolf’s brief fling with feature films began with the unlikely comedies Skateboard (1978) and the CanCon clunker Gas (1981), but also includes the slick Masquerade (1988), another tale of wealthy snots behaving badly, before the writer / producer returned to TV with New York Undercover (1994-1999) and Law & Order and its spin-off streams.

Director Peter Werner (TV’s Grimm), who won an Oscar for his short film In the Region of Ice (1976) made just a handful of feature films – the officially unreleased Prisoners (1981), Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982), and The Good Policeman (1991) – but earned several Emmy Award nominations for his heavy work in TV, such as the bio teleplays LBJ: The Early Years (1987) starring Randy Quaid, and Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story (1996).

The above review was originally written in 2014 and sourced from a vintage Betamax tape release (yes, really), which included a unique contest promotion that’s archived in the original Editor’s Blog.

Tied to the 2014 review was a short-short nonsense video I made on the video’s packaging, which is still archived on KQEK.com’s YouTube and my own Vimeo channels:

 

 

Further info on the making of this short – recorded using a vintage tube video camera, recorded entirely on VHS, and edited without digital effects – is available at Big Head Amusements.

 

 

© 2014; revised 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 

External References:

IMDB — Editor’s Blogs (2017 / 2014) —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

 

Vendor Search Links:

Amazon.ca Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk New movie releases on iTunes

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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