Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dick Tracy (1990)

Seen: On tv at my parents' house, I forget which channel. One of the HD movie channels.

I've been meaning to see this one for a while, mainly because it feels like it's referenced often. I haven't read the comic it's based on but I do like pretty colors, so it seemed a good fit. Directed by and starring Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy sees the titular detective trying to take down powerful crime boss Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) and his gang of cartoonish underlings. He also takes in a crass young boy known only as "Kid" (Charlie Korsmo) and tries not to cheat on his girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) with the seductive mob singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna).

Like I said, I haven't read the comics, but from what I can gather Beatty and writers Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr tried to incorporate as much as they could from the source material (with the fear they wouldn't get a sequel). This means there are way too many characters and an abundance of half-realized subplots, making the final product jumbled and hard to follow. I liked a lot of the characters and it's not like "cop takes down mob boss" is that much of a tricky premise, but somehow I became lost in all that was going on and it just made me sort of bored at points. The fact that most of the action sequences are shown as truncated montages doesn't help. I enjoyed much of the cast, though- from Beatty's grizzled but warm-hearted detective and Madonna's put-upon lounge singer to Mandy Patinkin's wide-eyed piano player and Pacino's shouty bad guy. The main thing to remember here though is that Tess Trueheart is basically a badass until she gets kidnapped.

With its candy-colored palette and detailed set pieces, Dick Tracy is certainly easy on the eyes. Beatty's attempt to re-create the look of the comics down to the exaggerated costumes and faces is admirable but it doesn't quite work in practice. I loved the overall look of the film, but found the prosthetic faces of the villains distracting and just off-putting. It's a noble gesture and everything but would fans of the comic have minded if the movie versions of these characters had more realistic faces? I really don't know. I understand giving them some exaggerated characteristics but this is too much.

All in all Dick Tracy has some fun moments (I did enjoy Madonna's Sondheim-penned musical numbers) and beautiful visuals, but as a whole it's too convoluted. I definitely respect what Beatty tried to do here and I'm glad that even if the story isn't the best, the execution is memorable and different. The talented (and HUGE) cast helps keep things moving, with appearances from Dick Van Dyke, James Caan, Kathy Bates, Catherine O'Hara, and Dustin Hoffman.


Pair This Movie With: My first thought is Johnny Dangerously, but I also think it might be fun to put this with Sin City for another highly stylized neo-noir-comic-type film.


  1. Alex,

    Sigh. Okay I was 10 years old when this came out and my Dad took my brother and I to the theatre. OH MY GOD! Loved it! I had all the action figures and trading cards and McDonald's cups. So, I'm not biased at all. Oh and Madonna was way hot.

  2. I consider this one of the few Perfect Films because the filmmakers convey their filmmaking goals up-front, and I think they achieve them. Perfectly. A funny-papers cartoons strip, brought to life.

    Now, that's not to say it's a great film, or even good necessarily. But it's not often filmmakers can point to their nail and hit it on the head. Congrats to them for that.

    AND I've enjoyed rewatching it over the years a bit, too.