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Year of the Gun

"Year of the Gun" on DVD

High Caliber Thriller

Director John Frankenheimer has made some pretty nifty political thrillers over the years. His 1991 "Year of the Gun" doesn't reach the standards of "the Manchurian Candidate" or "Ronin," but it's entertaining enough.

"Gun" stars Andrew McCarthy as a young American journalist in Italy, working in his spare time on his first novel - a political thriller based on the "Red Brigade" group of Italian terrorists.

Unfortunately, he's been using the names of real people in his draft and his main plot involves a plot to kidnap Italian Premier Aldo Moro. Life in this work of art imitates art far too closely, because it turns out that the Red Brigade is planning to kidnap Moro, so when McCarthy's book falls into the wrong hands the terrorists think he's on to them - and all the people named in the story have real life stations (including the CIA) as outlined in the work of fiction.

"Gun" uses the Hitchockian plot device of an innocent man caught up in a situation not of his making - though movies like "North By Northwest" did it much better. Still, it's hard not to feel empathy for the guy, who just wants to live his life and make a hugely commercial novel without being shot at - or worse.

Sharon Stone is very good in her role of a photo journalist who lives to catch on film violence unfolding around the world. She and McCarthy are thrown together - and tarred by the same mistaken brush, though in Stone's case her innocence of the situation isn't for a lack of trying to get involved.

Perhaps the most interesting casting choice is that of John Pankow, Paul Reiser's cousin Ira from his "Mad About You" sitcom. Pankow is an Italian professor who's also part of the Red Brigade - at least on the periphery. He appears to speak fluent Italian and while his character is quite likeable, it's definitely a change of pace from the sitcom.

Valeria Golino plays McCarthy's love interest, a woman who has the biggest secret of any of them. She sucks you in, too, until a scene about halfway through the film where she appears almost as a "Godmother" (a female Mafia Don), chairing what's undoubtedly an important meeting of "we-don't-at-the-time-know-who."

The story is dated now, but it holds up reasonably well. Frankenheimer's experienced hand guides the film surely through its twists and turns, and he handles the action and the violence well - never dwelling on the latter but making it merely a part of the situation like any other.

The DVD is only in "full screen" for some reason. It doesn't look panned and scanned, though a disclaimer when you start the film tells you they've lopped off the sides. The digitally mastered picture quality is very good. Audio is Dolby digital and it sounds good as well, though it isn't Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.

There aren't a lot of extras, either. You only get some production notes, via a liner note essay, as well as chapter stops and a couple of extra Sharon Stone trailers.

Year of the Gun, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
111 minutes, Fullscreen (1.66:1), Dolby Digital stereo
Starring Andrew McCarthy, Valeria Golino, Sharon Stone,
Produced by Edward R. Presman, Written by David Ambrose
Directed by John Frankenheimer


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Updated May 13, 2006