Review Date: July 1, 2006
Released by: Universal
Release date: 9/8/1998
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
For as long as he’s been directing movies, Brian De Palma has had to endure criticism for his recapitulation of popular Hitchcockian motifs. Most of his critics simply note base themes and similarities between story points in his films and the Master’s, but fail to note how these themes are presented. De Palma has always had fun in injecting irony and a certain post-modern intrigue into his stylish updating of Hitchcock, and for those who get it, his oeuvre reaps many rewards. De Palma finally bitchslapped his detractors by making his own Psycho
– the film he has been most accused of plagiarizing in his multiple-personalitied Dressed to Kill
. The film was called Raising Cain
, and it was a return to personal form after his studio work on the big-budget flop, The Bonfire of the Vanities
. It may have been personal, but is this dual-role John Lithgow film side-splitting entertainment or merely a splitting headache?
Carter (John Lithgow
) is the perfect husband. He’s a wealthy psychiatrist who has taken time off work to help raise his young daughter while his wife pursues her own career. The women at the park where his daughter plays all love him, and he speaks with a sensitivity that could coo Paddington bear. There’s a darker side to him though, literally, as his alter ego, Cain
), executes any of Carter’s darker desires. Carter is looking to study child development like his father (Lithgow
, again) and would like to have a few more subjects than just his daughter to pick through. So on Cain
goes in kidnapping various children from the park with the sinister goal of exploiting their nubile personality formation process.
Carter’s wife, Jenny (Lolita Davidovich
) is concerned with Carter’s squeaky clean antics and infatuation with his daughter, but not concerned enough to stop an age old affair from rekindling. As a doctor, she fell for one of her patients, Jack (Steven Bauer
), as his wife was in a coma, but due to freak circumstances the two quickly swept the fling under the rug. A chance encounter on the street brings Jack and Jenny together again, and she begins to see him in hotel visits right out of Dressed to Kill
Carter witnesses his wife doing the deed at the park, and, well, splits. Cain’s antics get even more out of control, as Jenny now becomes a target. Carter’s father starts to enter the picture, even though he has long been pronounced dead, which begs the question of whether or not it is merely another creation in Carter’s disturbed imagination. Victims start turning up in lakes and car trunks, and the police start sniffing Cain’s scent, but nothing will prepare them for De Palma’s virtuoso finale.
Now about the finale. De Palma stages a wonderfully complex altercation between all his principal actors in a three story hotel. In another of his lengthy and always-moving crane shots, he goes from the third floor all the way down to the basement, tracking the position of each of his characters as they all enter this action hotspot. When the action finally starts, he cuts with the panache of a silent film as music crescendos the interactions between each of the characters. The baby carriage from his other wonderfully stylish and silent tour de force scene in The Untouchables
(itself a reference to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin
) signals the silent movie inspiration of his finale here, and it truly is a sight to behold.
Not only that, but De Palma pastiches much more than just Eisenstein here, with reference to The Godfather
via the slow-motion falling of oranges during the finale, Psycho
via a sunken car recovery and the obvious multiple personalities, and most enjoyably, Argento’s Tenebre
with the memorable final reveal. He also references himself quite often by playing out the domestic sexual drama that underpinned every moment in Dressed to Kill
as he follows Jenny as she deals with the fact that she accidentally gave her secret lover a gift addressed to her husband. It has a kind of black humor similar to the hotel scene in Dressed to Kill
, although sans STD. The end also plays out in an elevator with a switchblade, but the results end up quite different. After 20 features, this was De Palma’s way of perhaps looking back not only on his influences but also on himself combining everything in a smoothie of self-referentiality.
It doesn’t work. While De Palma’s shot selection, style and reworking of popular tropes always contains a certain entertainment and mastery, his script here is a mess from start to finish. Let’s forget the fact that so many elements are implausible, because this is a quality that crops up in most films that employ the multiple personality gimmick. The biggest issue is merely the structuring of the story. De Palma has Carter and Cain
interacting right from the first scene, eluding context from the viewer as to how or when this happened until near the end of the film. It feels, then, that we’ve boarded De Palma’s ship in mid-sail, and there is the constant pile-up of unanswered questions that cloud any virtuoso moment in the film. Jenny’s whole relationship with Jack is painfully undeveloped as well, and seems a complete afterthought.
The tagline for the film is “When Jenny cheated on her husband, he didn’t just leave...he split.” Which is really how the film should have progressed. It would have been better to have Carter normal at the beginning, only to have the trauma of adultery bring out his latent personalities, as is so often the case in reality. This would have given the audience time to settle with the character before jumping into his personalities. The whole time watching, I was reminded of Blow Out
, and how much of the footage of the film was stolen, since Cain
feels like the first reel was left back at the couriers.
This was the first film De Palma wrote himself in the eight years following Body Double
, and it is painful to fault what really should have been a return to form. While De Palma would find his footing again ten years after Cain
with the fabulous Femme Fatale
, Raising Cain
is undoubtedly a disappoint from one of cinema’s greatest living legends. A failure for De Palma is better than most filmmakers’ best works, since even when things don’t work, the theory and skill behind his daring is always obvious. The story is a headache, but De Palma’s style is the Tylenol.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this transfer looks good even after the 8 years since it was first released. Black levels are great, with good contrast and a deep image. The polarized shots of Cain
look near perfect throughout. The print itself is very clean as well, with minimal specs. Unfortunately, there is a bit of edge enhancement present, which can at times be distracting, especially in the interrogation scenes. Things resultantly look artificially sharp at times. Grain is a smidge greater than it ought to be, too. Still, a good transfer that does De Palma’s visuals justice.
is presented in a 2.0 Dolby Surround track, although there is little channel differentiation throughout. The resulting sound is pretty straight on and unappealing. Still, the dialogue is clear and the overall soundscape is far from flat. Pino Donaggio’s score sounds stellar, as it usually does.
One of Universal’s older discs, this has the features that defined the early-era in Universal’s home video division. The filmographies, production notes and useless weblink menu (complete with the Universal Studios theme in the background) are all there, as is the trailer. The trailer is a work of frustrating ambiguity, like the film itself, in the way it just jumps right into the action without giving any sort of pretense. We see some dead bodies, and that there are multiple Lithgows, but we never really find out why.
Known as the black sheep of all the thrillers that De Palma has both wrote and directed, Raising Cain
is virtuoso cinematic exercise in style marred by a muddled story. That said, it is still much more intriguing than the Hollywood work-for-hire’s he’d been doing before and after. The image quality is good for such an early Universal release. The sound and supplements are pretty standard, and considering the film is a disappointment, only De Palma aficionados should consider it. But then again, that should constitute everyone, schizophrenics and all.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B-
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour 31 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Surround
- Spanish Dolby Surround
- French Dolby Surround
- English Closed Captions
- Spanish Subtitles
- Theatrical trailer
- Production notes