Dick Tracy (1990 United States)

Warren Beatty carries a lot of baggage for me. I don’t mean that literally. But he’s one of those actors that trigger my harsh judgments. When his career was flagging, like his dwindling youth, he tried to assume the mantle of an ‘intellectual’, hoping to hoodwink the public and media with pretentious crap like Reds. In reality he suffers from egomania and satyriasis. As for this production, I don’t need to Google if Warren dipped his wick in Madonna when the work day was over. Or if she sucked on his twitching lollipop. I just assume this happened. The two of them are so obvious. He could no more control himself (Warren Beatty is the epitome of the working stiff) than the slag heap could at this stage in her career. Is she a ho? Lets just say the last time she felt ‘like a virgin’ would have been in her mother’s womb.

Enough of my nasty ramblings, on with the shew (as Ed Sullivan used to say)…Dick Tracy is a film that has divided audiences. There are those who think it is too over-the-top to comprehend, and those who regard it as a slick, colourful (all primary colours are present and correct) and enjoyable picture. I fall closer to the latter in terms of opinion. While it is far from realistic, it isn’t a film to be taken seriously. The real beauty lies in the polished 2D set decoration that brilliantly resembles the cardboard cut-out look of the newspaper-strip comic. No dreary reality here. Kudos to Oscar winning art director Richard Sylbert. The exuberantly synthetic streets and glaring reflection of the roads are a beauty to gaze it. Also top-notch is the costume design. Suits and ties are given the appropriately bizarre coloured look, while the images of the gangsters are as grotesque as one could hope for.

While it’s easy to discard this off as a `technical’ flick, there’s enough diluted substance to satisfy all genuine expectations. The narrative isn’t as limp as one might think. Sure, for the most part it is reduced to a series of stylised set-pieces, but this isn’t supposed to be `Casablanca’. Rarely have superhero movies received so much of Uncle Oscar’s attention. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards (winning three), surely this has broken a record. Sometimes engrossing, often very hammy, all is done with deliberate intentions. Seldom has this genre received such a classy cast either. Warren Beauty produced, directed and starred in the picture. Quite the hat-trick, and the dirty old bastard does a great job on all accounts. Not only does he personify the image of Dick Tracy; he also perfectly balances the two elements that make this film work– charm and style. While Al Pacino was Oscar nominated for his part as a typically cheesy gangster–Big Boy Caprice, I have to admit that’s crossing the line (was the performance really worth the Academy’s attention?) but he’s not bad in the role.

Madonna is appropriately slutty as exotic dancer Breathless Mahoney. As if this wasn’t enough, all is bolstered by fine supporting turns from the likes of James Caan, William Forsythe and Glenne Headly. Also in there are `blink and you’ll miss them’ cameos from Kathy Bates, Estelle Parsons and Catherine O’Hara, as are eccentric parts for actors who just faded away over the years (Mandy Patinkin, Charles Durning, Paul Sorvino et al). The script is appropriately done like one continuous comic strip with twists and tangents at every turn. Clearly, the film is not for all tastes. As I said, there are plenty that just won’t see the point and believe it to be another triumph of style over substance. It was one of the first to do so– this war began in the late 80’s/ early 90’s in pictures such as `Wild At Heart’ and `Total Recall’. In the end, style won. Not only that, it loses some momentum and collapses a tad in the final third. Not to worry–the glittering sets and illustrious props overshadow all. When the cover’s this pretty, who cares what’s inside? Not saying that the film’s hollow or anything but if you want some illustrious comic-strip mayhem, you can’t go far wrong with Dick Tracy.


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