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Shadow of Fear (DVD)

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Genre: Action & Adventure / Director: Rich Cowan / Actors: Matthew Davis, James Spader, Aidan Quinn, Peter Coyote, Robin Tunney ... / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      27.03.2010 12:39
      Very helpful
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      A reasonable thriller

      Harrison French is on his way home when he hits and kills a man who suddenly appears in the middle of the road. He is about to call the emergency services when he changes his mind, hides the body in some shrubbery and goes home to his wife - they are already struggling financially and this accident could be the final blow for them. Then he discovers that the dead man is probably his wife's missing brother Chris, and the police seem to have found evidence that links him to the murder. Panicking, he seeks help from an attorney friend of his father-in-law's, William Astbury. Astbury, it transpires, is the leader of a type of brotherhood - basically, a group of people who Astbury has helped get out of trouble, but for a price. Harrison is soon part of the group and can see no way out of it. Will he ever be free from Astbury?

      Matthew Davis plays Harrison French. Davis is an actor I have not heard of before, although he has recently appeared in The Vampire Diaries. He gives a reasonable performance as Harrison. It's not particularly easy to feel much sympathy for him though - he seems to have made his own bed, it's just that he's not willing to lie in it. He doesn't treat his wife, Wynn, particularly well and he generally appears to be one of those people who wants the world, but isn't willing to work for it. Nevertheless, he did grow on me during the course of the film and this is down to Davis' skills as an actor. Had he had a little more chemistry with his on-screen wife, played by Robert Tunney, I would have been positively impressed by his performance. Unfortunately, he comes across as being very cold around her and it doesn't feel quite right.

      Probably the best performance comes from James Spader, who plays Astbury. Astbury is a thoroughly unpleasant character who feeds off people and manipulates them to behave just as he wants them too. Spader makes him menacing, yet harmless at the same time. Unfortunately, the script-writers made him just that bit too controlling to be true - but this isn't something that Spader can be blamed for. I was delighted to see Aidan Quinn as Detective Scofield. Quinn is one of my favourite eighties/early nineties actors, in films like Desperately Seeking Susan, Stakeout and Benny & Joon. Here (the film was released in 2004), he seems like a shadow of his former self - the sparkle in his eye is gone and he just appears to be going through the motions. He isn't terrible in the role, he just doesn't really stand out either.

      This is quite a complicated story and it took me a couple of viewings before I'd really got to grips with what was going on. This is at least partly because the story just isn't told as well as it could be. At the beginning of the film, Harrison is drinking in a bar on his own, while Astbury is holding court at a nearby table. The two later speak, after Harrison's bar tab is paid. Then a while later, it turns out that one of the people Astbury was drinking with was Harrison's father-in-law, yet there was no interaction at the time. This really confused me during the first viewing. It is perhaps deliberate, to add a bit of interest to the film, but it doesn't really bode well for an audience who only intend to watch the film once.

      I was relieved to find that it did eventually all make sense, but only if you listen very carefully to everything that is being said - and there are a couple of times when it is very hard to catch what is being said. This would appear to be down to the actor mumbling or a bad sound system, because everything else is as clear as a bell. More confusion is caused by the fact that Harrison looks very much like another member of Astbury's group, so much so that at times I struggled to work out who I was supposed to be watching. Both were tall, young, had mid-brown hair and similar-shaped faces. When I watched the second time, it was obvious who was who, but again, it is important to make this clear the first time around - if someone has to watch the film twice to work out what is going on, it really defeats the object.

      On a more positive note, it is an intriguing story, one that I was determined to get to the bottom of and one that has a bit of a twist at the end. I've read a lot of comments on imdb.com about its lack of originality, and perhaps that's true to an extent, but it's still much more original than many films of its ilk - I'm thinking made-for-TV, straight-to-DVD films here because it's not a hidden gem or anything. Apart from the number of actors involved, it is fairly clear that it is a budget production. The setting is basic, in three main locations - the French's home, the hotel/club where Astbury's clan meet up and the road along which Harrison ran down his victim. That isn't a particular flaw, however, the emphasis of the film is on the story, rather than the production.

      There are no extras with the DVD at all - not surprising as there was so little hype around its release.

      This film is far from perfect, but it's an enjoyable watch - not one that's worth beating down the doors of your local HMV though. What most puts me off recommending it is the fact that it probably needs more than one watch to get the full benefits and I don't think that the majority of people will be prepared to do this. If you're a fan of films that confuse you or you follow the careers of any of the actors in the main role, then by all means look out for it. Otherwise, it's worth a watch if it comes on TV. Three stars out of five.

      The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.

      Classification: 12

      Running time: 88 minutes

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