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March 7, 2011

Film Review: Dick Tracy

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Dick Tracy
Director: Warren Beatty
Writers: Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (created by Chester Gould)
Distributed By: Touchstone Pictures
Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo
Release Date: June 15th, 1990

Comic strip legend Dick Tracy comes to life in the 1990 live action film Dick Tracy. When Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) takes hold of the city’s underworld, only Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) can stop him. Aided by his ever loyal girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) and newly adopted orphan The Kid (Charlie Korsmo), Dick Tracy has to bring law and order back to the city. But with an array of villains such as Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) and Flattop (William Forsythe), Breathless Mahoney’s (Madonna) seductive passes, and a price on Dick Tracy’s head, can the detective save the day and put a stop to Caprice once and for all?

In the post-Batman 89 nineties, blockbuster films weren’t just summer smashes at the box office, they were events. Films like Terminator 2, Batman Forever, or The Little Mermaid, went into merchandise mania and promotion overdrive. T-shirts, happy meals, video games galore! Films became their own franchises, especially if they were comic book or other adaptations.

None convey this (aside from Batman 89) better than Dick Tracy. It was a big budget, big franchised (although Beatty detested it), summer film of the year. Of course, it was only moderately successful despite all this (and by moderately successful, I mean it did well but not Batman well). People didn’t go crazy for Dick as the studios thought they would. Still, I remember Dick Tracy very much in the early 90s pop culture and every time I walked into a Hollywood Video. However, I never actually saw the film until now. Now that the hype and frenzy has died off, it will be interesting to see if it passes the test of time.

For starters, the Warren Beatty’s directing (and producing) had a style that is very reminiscent of the late eighties to early nineties action-adventure films. Very much its own fantasy world with a whimsical and cartoonish feel. More family friendly than Batman 89 but less looney than Who Framed Roger Rabbit? If you saw either of those two films, you could probably spot a lot of similarities. The larger than life fantasy worlds that break the limits of reality and push your imagination.

Note: Chicago is not that fantastically vivid.

But its inspiration doesn’t just stay with its contemporaries. It’s also very faithful to the original comic strip with its style, story, and characters. Beatty even throws a trick or two from the 30s cartoons and films. From the streamline designs to the “will he escape?” scenarios, to even the costuming. Another thing it has in common with good pulp and early films, is its quick witted dialog.

Movie Rule #87: Villains should avoid high ledges at all costs.

The cast delivering the lines is also well picked. You have Warren Beatty starring as Dick Tracy. And asking if Warren Beatty can do a good performance is like asking if Al Pacino can play a great crime boss. Oh wait, that’s right, Al Pacino is in the film as main mobster Big Boy Caprice. The nice part is that Beatty didn’t just put in the A-listers for star power, he picked them for their performance. And aside from the head honchos, the other cast such as Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart, or William Forsythe as Flattop, hold their own terrific performances with the rest of the Hollywood legends. And since some of you might be asking, yes, Madonna does a decent job as Breathless Mahoney. You may hear her voice slightly off key at times, but that was done on purpose.

Warren Beatty and Madonna used extreme method acting for their sexual chemistry.

But the main thing that grabbed me by the throat were the colors. It might sound silly for me to be paying attention to the colors. But it’s true, you have to see it to believe it. I felt like Dorothy going from Kansas to Oz; from drab, earth toned modern films to a film using a palette of bright blues, reds, yellows, and greens. Nothing is accidental here, every single color is intricately put together. I admit, I got nauseous of the reds after a while, but I still walked away fascinated. My one major complaint, though, is how can this not be on Blu Ray? Its films like Dick Tracy that are the reasons why they made Blu Ray and high definition in the first place.

Any number of the still frames could become works of art.

The other visuals follow suit. The city itself is amazing. A lot of old films suffer from bad CGI or see-able model scale buildings, but this one feels real but looks surreal. And of course, the makeup is amazing. It captures the characters perfectly, all life-like caricatures. In fact, I wasn’t even able to recognize some of the actors such as Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles. And of course, the props, lighting, and all other details follow the same quality, all well done without being too bold.

The Question makes a cameo here. Oh wait, different character.

And another work of art.

As far as the plot is concerned, it jumps straight to the point without taking a second to breathe. This works both for and against it. On one hand, it has a lot of quick scenes and keeps it at a good pace. On the other hand, it has a lot of quick scenes with little time to dig in deeper to the characters or film. It’s a shallow plot that’s fairly easy to follow; although some people who didn’t grow up reading the comics such as myself might have problems with some of the details. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t equate to a bad plot; but if you’re looking for some life changing themes, you better look somewhere else.

'Cause she's got a GREAT ASS!

Apparently according to Dick Tracy, Tommy Guns are very inaccurate.

This is a clear case in which style overshadows substance. And while it’s true that style is no substitute for substance, it is also true that in film, style can trump substance. Dick Tracy is executed brilliantly by Warren Beatty with fantastic art, a phenomenal cast, and three great soundtracks that fit right in.

I’m not saying that Dick Tracy is flawless. It has its flaws all right, such as lackluster action or a dragged on final act. But what I will say, is that Dick Tracy is a must see film for its visual and artistic merits. It embodies the spirit of the nineties blockbusters. Big, bold, and daring. A film that is a feast for the eyes. And a glimpse back at a time where comic book films such as Dick Tracy, The Mask, and The Crow tried to be different and weren’t just made in one homogenized style.

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Andrew Hudson



  1. Funny you should mention the look of the film because as much as I tried not to like it, it was the visual style that kept me watching the movie. The story wasn’t all that bad either since I’ve seen a LOT worse but this movie has a certain charm to it that will make it watchable from time to time.

  2. Kristin

    I kind of liked this movie. It looks really cool, at least.

  3. Billy

    I’ve never watched this in its entirety, but what I did see, was enough to not like it very much. I really don’t like Beatty, or Madonna (the actress), and some of the reasons why you liked it, are why I didn’t. To each his own. 😀

  4. […] cinematography is also something that has a strong presence here. Some films like Dick Tracy will scream the time they’re in with bright, bold colors and dazzling displays. But here, […]

  5. […] starters, let’s start off with the style. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Dick Tracy, the style is just as important as substance. After all, this is a 2-D meets live action spectacle. […]

  6. […] with amazing lighting and fantastic sets, the cinematics arguably rival perhaps Batman 89 and Dick Tracy (or come pretty damn […]

  7. Damn, you are right: why ISN’T this on Blu Ray?

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