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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/15/00

The Minus Man
1999 (2000) - Artisan

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Minus Man Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/B-

Specs and Features
111 min, R, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, home video trailer, serial killer biographies, production notes, cast and crew information, film-themed menu screens with sound and animation, scene access (35 chapters), language: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

The Minus Man is the story of a different kind of serial killer. He doesn't have the menacing grin of Hannibal Lector, nor the cunning wit of Chucky in Child's Play. Instead, he is someone who is courteous, considerate, conscientious and to a certain degree (murder notwithstanding) moral. In short, he's someone you'd have over for dinner or that you'd let bring your daughter home after midnight.

Owen Wilson plays Vann, a good-natured boy-next-door who moves aimlessly from town to town. He settles down in a small town, and rents a room from Jane (Mercedes Ruehl) and Doug (Brian Cox). Jane is initially distant and cold toward Vann, and doesn't really want to get involved with him. Doug, however, quickly takes to Vann and treats him as his confidant.

Soon thereafter, Doug gets Vann a temporary job at the Post Office. There he meets Ferrin, played effectively against type by Janeane Garofalo. Ferrin is quiet and unassuming, and she quickly develops a crush on Vann. He wins over his boss, and his temporary job becomes a permanent one. Then the killing starts. But even his method of killing is sweet. Vann forgoes the traditional knife or gun and opts instead to kill his victims by lacing their sweet amaretto with poison. No kicking and screaming. No blood, no violence - no muss, no fuss.

Part of the reason The Minus Man is so convincing as a thriller is its level of believability. Never once does Vann raise his voice, yet we can still see that there is something brewing beneath what he is telling us in his narration. Owen Wilson is believable as the friendly neighbor who you think you know, but when it comes down to it, you know absolutely nothing about him. He has given you enough of himself to convince you of his intentions, while still keeping you distant enough to prevent you from getting to know him.

This, in part, is also the movie's one downfall. There is no motivation behind what he is doing. He's not killing people he hates or dislikes. He's not even necessarily killing people he knows. All we know is that for one reason or another, he feels the need to kill. Even in his voice-over narration, he doesn't really hit on what makes him tick or what sends him over the edge and makes him kill whom he does. Had the director (Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher) given us just a little bit more inside the head of Vann, the picture would have felt more complete to me.

Artisan has given us a nice presentation of The Minus Man. The anamorphic transfer is stunning and nearly flawless. A lot of soft brights and pastels were used to reflect Vann's frighteningly sunny disposition, and they come across beautifully on DVD. There is little visible edge enhancement, producing nice contrasts between colors. The source print used is excellent and free of defects. Also effective is the soundtrack. Though it is a softer 5.1 mix, making only occasional use of the rear channel speakers, the sound is still good. There is a good balance between music and effects tracks, and dialogue is never compromised.

The extras, like the film, are strange and interesting. Most notably odd is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in full frame. There are no clips from the movie in the trailer, just a couple people leaving a theatre talking about the film. I'm not going to give too much away here, but as they are talking, the woman realizes she is late for work and finds something waiting for her when she gets there. It gives you absolutely no idea what the movie is about, but teases you enough to make you want to run out and see it... or completely avoid it. You'll have to watch the trailer to find out what it is.

Another noteworthy feature, though not directly related to the film, is a list of 15 of the most infamous serial killers and brief bios about them. That, in and of itself, was enough to keep me looking over my shoulder. The remaining features are pretty standard, including cast and crew biographies and production notes. As a side note, Artisan is one of my favorite indie studios, but I do wish they would make more of an effort in putting subtitles on their DVD releases. All things considered, this is not a bad set of features.

Artisan made a real impression on the movie-going public in the summer and early fall of 1999 with three chilling releases - The Blair Witch Project, Stir of Echoes, and The Minus Man. They've also shown their commitment to the DVD format by putting out great DVD releases of each of these movies. The Minus Man is an effective, frightening movie that does something a lot of movies with more blood and violence aren't able to do. It actually scared me. Will it scare you? I don't know, and neither will you unless you watch it yourself.

Dan Kelly
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