Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1994 Cast: Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, John Hodge, Colin McCredle Director: Danny Boyle Release Date: June 12, 2012 Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:51s Genre(s): drama, thriller
"Go ahead then, telephone. Telephone the police. Tell them it's a suitcase full of money and you don't want it." - Alex (Ewan McGregor)
Danny Boyle's taut 'bad decisions' thriller Shallow Grave gets the Criterion treatment, and above all that means a very nice looking new transfer that really showcases the work of director of photography Brian Tufano better than ever.
Movie Grade: A-
DVD Grade: A-
Shallow Grave was the tilted debut from the production triumvirate of director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald in 1994. The success of this small-budget film paved the way for them to create the explosive Trainspotting, and it seemed that over time Trainspotting kind of wrote over the collective memories of people, leaving Shallow Grave in a forgotten dust heap somewhere. People clearly remember Trainspotting - it is rather hard to forget - but Shallow Grave never seemed to maintain the same level of long-term notoriety (though it did forever change the meaning of Andy Williams recording of Happy Heart for me). Criterion has thankfully done what they do so well, and have now served up Shallow Grave in a beautiful new 1080p transfer that should do wonders to get this demented thriller back out in the forefront again.
It's a simple story - about friendship, trust and the power of greed - familiar yet with its own inherent twists and turns. It is a classic "bad decisions" thriller about three flatmates (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox) actively looking for a fourth roomie. Problems begin soon after they settle on the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen), who promptly dies of an overdose, leaving behind a suitcase filled with money. It's here that things begin to go irreversibly off the rails for Alex (McGregor), David (Eccleston) and Juliet (Fox) as they decide to keep the money and dispose of the body - a process which involves hammers, hacksaws and the like. Each of the characters carry their own level of reluctance, but collectively they forge ahead and once they do things go from bad to really really bad.
And then even worse.
Boyle and Hodge cram a lot of down-the-dark-rabbithole drama into a 90-minute runtime, and there is a point about midway through Shallow Grave - involving some characters searching for Hugo's suitcase of cash - that a lesser film would have been content to use as the climax. Here, however, it is just a warmup for what is to come. The characters Hodge has created require McGregor, Eccleston and Fox to undergo some rather large evolutions in their personalities as the storyline becomes more unpleasant. McGregor's Alex begins as an obnoxious wiseass - and the architect of their initial dilemma - only to become the only quasi voice of reason while Fox's Juliet goes from being a quiet participant into rogue survivor mode. The biggest transformation is left to Eccleston's mild-mannered accountant David, who becomes the film's wildly unpredictable link as he creates a diabolically clever perch to guard the money as only he sees fit.
If we have learned anything from stories like this it is that greed corrupts and even the best of friendships can do little to withstand something that powerful. As Shallow Grave opens we hear a voiceover from Eccleston's David, offering a warning that "if you can't trust your friends, well, what then?" That's the core of Shallow Grave's central plot and the source for the film's distinctively layered dark humor. It's a given that the idea hatched by Alex, Juliet and David is going to go horribly wrong - there wouldn't be much a movie otherwise, would there?
The new AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer was supervised by director of photography Brian Tufano, and though Shallow Grave may have been made for next to nothing, you would never know it by looking at this disc. What you will likely notice right away is the recurring color schema of red/blue/green/yellow and how it is so vividly rendered in nearly every frame. A second viewing allowed me to focus more directly on the transfer's handling of these dominant color patterns and it's really a treat to see how beautiful this film looks. Hints of the original film grain are evident, and perhaps the one drawback here is that the black levels don't always come off as inky as they should, especially in the loft sequences.
The 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio doesn't offer much in the way of aural thrills, but it delivers clear dialogue throughout and does wonders with the Simon Boswell score as well as the key tunes from Leftfield, Andy Williams and Nina Simone. Optional SDH English subs are available should you find the accents a bit thick.
A foldout insert carries a short article by Philip Kemp entitled A Film Called Cruel that covers Shallow Grave's pivotal role in the resurgence of 1990s British cinema. Extras on the disc include two commentaries: the first from director Danny Boyle (recorded in 2009 and ported over from the 4DVD UK Blu-Ray) and the second from writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald (recorded for Criterion in February 2012). Both are well worth your time, but the Boyle track is notable because it offers an interesting take on the film's final scene that changed my entire perception of what had occurred onscreen. Hodge and Macdonald delve more into the behind-the-scenes components of the struggles to simply get the film made.
The other supplements consist of Interviews (28m:55s 1080p), a new Criterion-produced segment featuring conversation with Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston looking back on the impact of Shallow Grave. Video Diary (08m:58s) is a humorous short documenting the search for funding by producer Andrew Macdonald, and features comments from the likes of Sam Fuller. Digging Your Own Grave (29m:49s) is a 1994 full-frame doc directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) that also examines the film's development and production. The spoiler-heavy Shallow Grave theatrical trailer (02m:05s) is here, as is the infamous "Ewan McGregor tied to the tracks" Trainspotting teaser (01m:14s).