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review added: 2/6/01



No Looking Back
1998 (2000) - Gramercy Pictures (USA Films)

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

No Looking Back Film Rating: C-

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

Specs and Features

96 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 57:20, in chapter 14), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Edward Burns, theatrical trailer, cast and filmmaker information, scene access (24 chapters), film-themed menu screens, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned


If there was ever a film that was the embodiment of a depressing Bruce Springsteen song, No Looking Back is it. The third film in Ed Burns' Long Island Trilogy (The Brothers McMullen, She's the One were the others), No Looking Back is a story that isn't exactly emotionally uplifting or even all that fulfilling. It's about small town life and those who don't leave locking themselves in a repetitive cycle of boredom and loneliness. If there's one compliment I can give this film, it's that it succeeds in masterfully creating a world of depression. I can't remember the last time I've felt more empty-hearted after watching a movie. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. While No Looking Back is successful at creating this world, that doesn't necessarily mean it translates well into a fun movie-going experience.

No Looking Back stars Lauren Holly as Claudia, a diner waitress who's simply just existing in an abandoned fishing port on Long Island. She's involved with a mill worker named Mike (Jon Bon Jovi), a nice but ultimately passionless man who is intent on marrying her. It's only when her ex-boyfriend, Charlie (Ed Burns), returns to town that something finally happens. A trailblazer in his youth, Charlie looked down on his small town existence and left to gain something more out of life. But he returns a failure, and resorts to re-ingratiating himself with Claudia. This obviously doesn't sit well with Mike, who it turns out was Charlie's friend back in the day. And... well, that's pretty much it.

The remaining hour of the film is spent with the clichéd, old boyfriend-versus-new-boyfriend struggle. One is an embodiment of the past, and the other represents the present... and this story has been done over and over again. The main problem is that neither one of Claudia's suitors is particularly likable. Mike is nice but boring as all hell, and Charlie is simply content on being a terrible person to others so as to feel better about himself. To top things off, Claudia isn't exactly a pile of roses either. I mean... we see her fawn over these two idiots for 96 minutes! No Looking Back is basically one of those films that just makes you want to scream: "Just leave, for the love of God!" And while, inevitably, Claudia finds the best path in life for herself, you wonder why she couldn't have reached the decision 95 minutes earlier.

Making matters even more depressing is the insertion of other just-as-lethargically-infused characters as Claudia's sister (Connie Britton) and mother (Blythe Danner), who pines after the husband that left her. Rounding out the mix are Jennifer Esposito, John Ventimiglia and Nick Sandow, as friends of the main characters who also need a healthy dose of Oprah. Overall, No Looking Back is a film that has about the same nutritional value as sitting in your room alone, listening to records all day (and it leaves about the same unsatisfying emotional aftertaste). That's not to say it isn't a well-made film. There's quite a few smart details that add realism to the story and characters. But however nice the film looks and plays, it still comes down to being the least fun and least fulfilling film I've seen in quite a while. So much so, in fact, that it makes me want to throw out all the Bruce Springsteen tapes I still own from my teenage years.

Let's talk about the DVD. The video features quite an impressive transfer - the hazy gray color tone of film almost leaps off the screen and surrounds you. There's a little artifacting every so often, but not enough to detract from the experience. The sound is also quite nice. While only in Dolby Digital 2.0, there's an even quality to it that fits nicely with the film. Strangely, when the director's commentary is turned on, the film audio continues to play loudly in the background, making it difficult to hear what Burns is saying.

Speaking of the commentary, Ed Burns is just as interesting here as he is on his other two commentary tracks. I watched all three of his films in succession, and it's fascinating to see his tone change here compared to The Brothers McMullen and She's the One. It's obvious that he's disappointed in this film, mostly due to his own self-described mistakes in making it. He speaks about the absence of humor (that was so pleasant in his other films), as well as the heavy focus on the three main characters (when he had such a talented cast surrounding them). He also addresses a lot of the critical complaints about the film and its lack of a warm reception from audiences. There's also discussion on the changes the film went through as it got closer and closer to release, including its title (it was originally called Long Time, Nothing New), and the numerous subplots nixed in favor of the more character-oriented take the film went with. Also of interest is a long discussion about the 1983 film Tender Mercies, from which No Looking Back borrows in terms of story. There's also a decent amount of time devoted to Bruce Springsteen and his music's influence (and presence) in the film. Rounding out the slim extras are a theatrical trailer and actor/filmmaker biographies.

No Looking Back answers the question, "Can a film be well made and not be fun to watch?" That would be a resounding, "Yes!" However detail-oriented and unique this film's take on small town life may be, when the drama makes you want to want to watch an Adam Sandler comedy just to cleanse your palate, you know you're in trouble. Coincidentally, this DVD has about the same feel - well made, but ultimately not exactly a hoot to dig your way through.

Brian Ford Sullivan
bfsullivan@thedigitalbits.com


No Looking Back


Stories From Long Island (Ed Burns 3-disc set)


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