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Gambit Blu-ray Review

Gambit (2014) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Gambit

US Theatrical Release: April 25, 2014 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Michael Hoffman / Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (screenplay); Sidney Carroll (short story)

Cast: Colin Firth (Harry Deane), Cameron Diaz (Philomena "PJ" "Jammers" Puznowski), Alan Rickman (Lionel Shahbandar), Tom Courtenay (Major Nigel Nelson Wingate), Stanley Tucci (Martin Zaidenweber), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Xander), Pip Torrens (Desk Clerk), Selina Cadell (Dowager), Togo Igawa (Takagawa), Sadao Ueda (Chuck), Masashi Fujimoto (Big Man Katsuhara Chon), Cloris Leachman (Grandma Merle)

2.35:1 Widescreen / 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired / Not Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: May 27, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $30.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Gambit from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

The newest films of Joel and Ethan Coen can still slip under the radars of the general public. For all their critical acclaim, A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis only sold 1-1.5 million tickets each.
Those of us who write about film, however, find it impossible for anything bearing the accomplished brothers' names to escape notice. Gambit may be the exception.

It's important to point out that Gambit is not a Coen brothers film in the traditional sense. The siblings wrote this comedy but did not direct it. It's only the second film to credit both Joel and Ethan with screenplay and neither with directing. The first was only their second movie overall: 1985's Crimewave, directed by their co-writer and good friend Sam Raimi. Since then, the Coens have welcomed little creative input from anyone else. Raimi co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy with them. Another pair of writers contributed to Intolerable Cruelty before them. Apart from those and 1998 anomaly The Naked Man, which Ethan co-wrote with the film's director J. Todd Anderson, the Coens have always handled writing and directing all by themselves.

That will change with Unbroken, the upcoming Angelina Jolie-directed drama about Olympic athlete and World War II POW Louis Zamperini, on which the Coens and two others are expected to receive screenplay credit. Given the subject matter and the scheduled Christmas Day opening, that project is a safe bet for some critical buzz and accolades. The Coens' last break from tradition didn't go nearly as well.

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) and Major Nigel Nelson Wingate (Tom Courtenay) greet their American accomplice at London's Heathrow Airport.

Unrelated to the X-Men character, Gambit very loosely remakes a 1966 film of the same name that starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Primarily set and shot in the UK with an American director but a predominantly English cast, the film follows through on a plan by Harry Deane (Colin Firth), a broke London art curator who intends to swindle his super wealthy, irritable boss, media mogul Lionel Shahbandar (Alan Rickman).

Deane's plan exploits Lionel's ongoing quest for Monet's original painting Haystacks, Dusk, a long-lost piece whose compliment, Haystacks, Dawn, Lionel purchased for 11 million. Deane tracks down PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), a Texas rodeo cowgirl and poultry processing plant worker, and has her pose with her grandmother in front of a convincing reproduction of the missing Monet. Crafting a family heritage to explain how the painting could have ended up in a Texas trailer, Deane promises the unrefined American gal half a million pounds for her part of the job.

PJ flies over to England and meets with Lionel, who turns on his charm for her. It soon becomes clear, though, that the critical stage of this swindle, the one in which Deane will authenticate the fake for Lionel, is endangered by Lionel recruiting the services of German expert Martin Zaidenweber (Stanley Tucci).

The presence of American cowgirl PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz) slightly softens the considerable edges of media mogul (and mark) Lionel Shahbanadar (Alan Rickman).

Gambit does not feel like a Coen brothers movie. It's not at all dark, strange, heavy, challenging, or terribly cinematic. The only movie in the brothers canon it kind of resembles is The Ladykillers and that just may be the result of them again remaking a nearly 50-year-old British caper.
Ladykillers, which Barry Sonnenfeld was originally attached to direct, is widely considered one of the Coens' worst movies, but at least it boasts their directorial flair and eccentricities. Gambit you could genuinely mistake for an unprecedented collaboration of screenwriters Joel Cohen (Evan Almighty, Cheaper by the Dozen) and Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Men in Black 3).

That is not to belittle those scribes or to trash this film, only to reiterate that it does not comfortably fit into the revered and often bizarre canon of the makers of Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and The Big Lebowski. For one thing, Gambit carries a PG-13 rating, which is rare for them. That classification befits this light, breezy production, which is most amused by cultural divides and contrasting manners. Some of the gags, like a long-running one involving Firth running all over the swanky Savoy Hotel in his underwear while the concierges mistake him for a kind of gigolo, feel dated enough to have been reworked from the Michael Caine version (as probably are the creative animated opening titles). There's also an unlikely fart joke in the middle.

While it may not make you laugh a lot, Gambit doesn't make you cry either. Much of the cast, including Firth, Rickman, the briefly-seen Tucci and Cloris Leachman, and Tom Courtenay as Deane's driver/friend/forger, are quite likable. Not too surprisingly, the one weak link is Diaz, who annoys with her poor twang and unconvincing country girl act. Diaz has stretched herself for respected directors like Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze, and, most recently, Ridley Scott. Coen brothers script or not, though, she doesn't seem to have anything to prove to director Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day, The Last Station, 1999's A Midsummer Night's Dream). The air of stupidity that follows Diaz in most of her work is more or less offset by the inherent highbrowness of Oscar winner Firth. She's made better movies than this and he's made worse, but their pairing here, in which Diaz doesn't open her mouth until nearly the 20-minute mark, meets your expectations.

That is to say that Gambit is an average film, certainly not bad enough to warrant CBS Films' decision to basically forego North American theatrical release altogether. Probably for contractual obligation, the film briefly played in just ten US theaters last month the same day it became available on demand. You can somewhat appreciate that approach based on the modest commercial prospects and the young studio's rocky track record (they've gotten just two minor hits out of 15 mid-sized attempts).

Gambit was more widely released to theaters in a number of international territories, starting with the UK in November 2012 and expanding to such markets as Spain, Italy, Russia, and Japan through June 2013. The film grossed over $10 million overall, but as far as any official records show not a single penny in North America, where it reaches video on Tuesday in DVD and Blu-ray editions from CBS Films' distribution partner Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Gambit Blu-ray's menu montage gives the illusion of Harry Deane (Colin Firth) sizing up his German rival (Stanley Tucci).

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray treats Gambit to great 2.35:1 picture and

a solid 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. Sony puts out some of the best high-def transfers out there and even this unceremoniously handled comedy isn't immune to that legacy. English and English SDH subtitles are provided.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No extras are included here, save for a Digital HD UltraViolet download/stream of the film.

The disc opens with Sony's Be Moved promo and trailers for That Awkward Moment (green band), Pompeii, and The Monuments Men. The Previews section adds a trailer for The Pretty One to the other three movie ads. Sadly, you'll have to look elsewhere, like other recent Sony discs, to see Gambit's own (presumably non-theatrical) trailer.

The scored menu drags clips right to life. Unlike those given to in-house movies, this Sony Blu-ray unfortunately does not support bookmarks or allow you to resume playback.

An insert supplying your UltraViolet code and promoting four other Sony Blu-ray titles joins the nicely-labeled disc inside the side-snapped keepcase.

"Gambit" doesn't get too outlandish until Lionel's home security system, a lion, shows up to frighten Harry Deane (Colin Firth).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though I approached Gambit as a product of the Coen brothers, that isn't a designation that clearly fits or enhances your appreciation of this reasonably appealing but lightweight comedy that lacks the artistry and oddness of the siblings' original tales that they themselves direct. Given its unceremonious North American treatment, dumped on a Blu-ray with nary a bonus feature, the film is a little better than you would expect, but nothing spectacular that you'll remember or itch to revisit. In other words, with enough interest, this will make for a decent one-time viewing.

Buy Gambit from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: The Art of the Steal The Monuments Men Her "Crocodile" Dundee & "Crocodile" Dundee II
Written by the Coens: Blood Simple. Fargo The Big Lebowski No Country for Old Men A Serious Man True Grit Inside Llewyn Davis
Colin Firth: Arthur Newman The King's Speech A Single Man Then She Found Me
Cameron Diaz: The Counselor Being John Malkovich Bad Teacher Knight and Day The Green Hornet
Alan Rickman: Galaxy Quest Lee Daniels' The Butler Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stanley Tucci: The Hoax The Hunger Games Julie & Julia Jack the Giant Slayer Easy A The Terminal
Tom Courtenay: Quartet Doctor Zhivago | Directed by Michael Hoffman: The Last Station
Bottle Rocket Robot & Frank Extract American Hustle Never a Dull Moment We're the Millers The Heartbreak Kid

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Reviewed May 22, 2014.



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