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Criterion Collection: Shallow Grave [Blu-ray]  [US Import]
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Possessed of startlingly fresh performances and a visual style of genuine panache, Shallow Grave was deservedly a BAFTA Best Film winner in 1994. This was clearly a film that deserved attention. Sure enough, the principal talents involved (Director Danny Boyle, Producer Andrew Macdonald, Writer John Hodge and actors Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor) have gone on to huge successes both together (Trainspotting) and apart. The thriller's plot is simple enough: three flatmates take on a fourth (Keith Allen) who unexpectedly dies, leaving a mountain of cash behind. Who are your friends? Who can you trust? How far would you go for money? These are the questions facing Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Eccleston) and Alex (McGregor) as the scenario spirals out of control around them. Somehow no matter what they do, the decisions seem to lead to one gruesome event after another. The film's often breakneck pace--backed by tunes from Leftfield--quickly became a much-copied style. Most agree that the copies pale beside the original, and this ice-cold morality poser remains the best view of post-80s greed on screen.
On the DVD: Although presented in widescreen anamorphic format, both picture and sound are not much better than an average video playback. Add a static menu and just one trailer and this release will probably disappoint today's DVD collector. --Paul Tonks --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
After three Edinburgh roommates (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox) finally choose a new roommate they can live with, they find him dead on the floor with a suitcase full of cash. While trying to remove the body and extricate themselves from the situation, they wade hip-deep into a world of drugs, greed, and madness. Danny Boyle's first feature film is a delightfully circuitous, nail-biting, and unpretentious noir, with the director--and screenwriter John Hodge--focusing on the gradual psychological disintegration of the roommates. Boyle and Hodge would gain even greater acclaim across the Atlantic with their hit follow-up, TRAINSPOTTING. Eccleston would go on to appear in films such as ELIZABETH and THE OTHERS. McGregor, of course, would become Renton in TRAINSPOTTING and eventually Obi-Wan Kenobi, among many other screen roles.
Special Features: - Commentary with Danny Boyle - ‘Digging Your Own Grave’ BBC documentary directed by Kevin Macdonald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Many would expect Ewan McGregor to be the star of this film - giving his current status as a Hollywood A-lister, but in fact Christopher Eccleston acts everyone else off the screen. He's superb as David the mild chartered accountant who slowly descends into madness. The scene in which he threatens to put a man in a bin bag is simultaneously hilarious and chilling (it's worth owning the DVD for this one scene alone). There are many other great moments, including Cameron's revenge on Alex in a toilet cubicle.
There are however several gaps in the storyline - for example, the flatmates never consider the obvious possibility of hiding the money then reporting Hugo's death to the police, and it is never explained how the two bad guys traced Hugo's disappearance to the flat. The film may not be perfect, but it has definitely stood the test of time. And I think having a low budget works to the film's advantage, as it is very lean, with no unnecessary scenes. The running time is just under 90 minutes, which is about right for this film.
As for the DVD itself, there are no problems at all with the sound and picture quality. Although this DVD is a "Special Edition", the only extras are a commentary by Danny Boyle and a 29-minute BBC documentary called Digging Your Own Grave. The documentary is actually quite interesting. Whereas most "making ofs" are nothing more than a prolonged trailer or marketing device, Digging Your Own Grave does take us behind the scenes to show how the film was made. We get to see how the special effects were created, how the sets were built, we get to see actors rehearsing and producer Andrew Macdonald almost suffer a nervous breakdown as his film spirals over budget and over schedule and shady men in suits begin appearing on the set. I wish more DVDs contained documentaries of this calibre.
Interestingly, Danny Boyle has mentioned that the events in Trainspotting took place prior to those in Shallow Grave and Keith Allen's character was in fact the same person in both films.
The plot of Shallow Grave is undecidedly basic: three friends find their new flatmate dead in his room alongside a stash of questionably obtained money. Unwilling to surrender their loot by turning over the body to the police, the three opt to hide the body and keep their spoils to themselves. I won't disclose the rest in case I spoil it, but the truth is that the plot drives secondary to the characters, who are at once as fascinating and morbid as ever the story could be. It is in the minds of the protagonists and the tangled relationships they share that the film really shines.
The three main characters are introduced at once as being wicked and exclusive, displayed through their rampant cruelty as they make a game out of humiliating potential flat-mates. It is credit to McGregor that his obnoxious journalist, Alex, is difficult to dislike despite being the most forceful and sadistic of the trio, earning favour through his sharp wit and unrelenting charisma. The real story of Shallow Grave, however, is told through the degeneration of the docile and quiet accountant, David (Eccleston), as he fails to come to terms with the atrocity of their crime and falls foul to chronic paranoia, eventually becoming a recluse. The group dynamic is also an undeniably major part, for in the beginning the characters are shown to be extremely tight-knit, but the incident irreversibly drives them apart, forcing fickle alliances, torn apart by selfishness and fear.
Truly, Shallow Grave stands out because under its simple premise, lie deep and complex characters with whom the watcher is compelled to adore, pity and ultimately despise as they follow the characters from the start through to their retribution. Shallow Grave feels raw and basic, but in this it finds itself; there is no doubt that it was restricted by budgetary constraints, almost the entireity of the film takes place in the characters' Edinburgh flat, however by taking away all the unnecessary, it boils down to being a Aesop's fable style story of the impact of greed on the psyche and represents one of the finest examples of British cinema.
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