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Car thief Rudy (Ben Affleck) is about to be paroled from prison. His cell mate Nick (James Frain), who is also due for release, has been corresponding with Ashley (Charlize Theron). Ashley has fallen in love with Nick and promises she will be waiting for him on the outside. When Nick is killed in a prison riot, Rudy assumes his identity. Complications set in when Ashley's criminal brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) arrives and demands that "Nick" take part in a heist at a casino where the real Nick once worked. To stay alive Rudy must maintain his adopted persona and devise a plan to pull of the robbery for real.

After a smashing return to form with Ronin, hopes were high that John Frankenheimer would deliver another knockout with Reindeer Games. Although an improvement on the version released theatrically, this Director's Cut is still saddled with the same ludicrous plot no amount of Frankenheimer flair can overcome.

The only believable element of this throwback to film noir is Ben Affleck's decision to adopt his dead friend's identity in order to score some sack time with Charlize Theron. Funny how she never even had a picture of the real Nick, whom she met in the pages of a prisoner's contact magazine (is this available at newsagents?) Had this been done in the 40s such plot contrivances might be acceptable but as we watch this in the age of DVD technology how are we supposed to believe in the Nick switcheroo or think that a casino wouldn't have security cameras in the carpark that would spot a gang unloading rifles from a boot in broad daylight.

It gets worse as bad guy Gabriel spends the whole film finding weak reasons to keep the impostor (and the implausible plot) alive when it's obvious to everyone there's a bad imitation going on. Reindeer Games at least looks good in a crisp 2.35:1 transfer and is worth renting for the Frankenheimer commentary alone. His candour is amazing as he talks about the changes he reluctantly made after public previews indicated the film was too long. 'In retrospect, I should not have cut the movie' he says, adding 'you, the audience were cheated' by the studio imposed changes. He also mentions how we'll be able to see the affected scenes, as they were cut for the release version, after the movie has finished. Unfortunately these sequences do not appear after the end credits or anywhere else on the disc. Very disappointing and it makes you wonder what else is missing from Australian DVD releases.
Richard Kuipers

If you love films and haven't already seen Reindeer Games, watch it and then watch the DVD with Frankenheimer's commentary. He reveals it as not the theatrical release (at least as the Americans saw it), but a later, unedited version. He points out almost every addition and subtraction, explaining the reasons why, and which he thinks is better. It's a rare, honest appraisal of the filmmaking process, making this otherwise routine thriller worthwhile on DVD.

"I feel that the preview process hurt this movie," he admits. "I cannot tell you how difficult it is to spend ten months of your life making a film and having these research people take over. It's devastating. I feel that you the audience were the people eventually cheated. This (DVD) version really represents the film that I set out to make; an edgy, hard movie. The released version lost a lot of its edge and was much softer than the movie I had originally directed."

As Frankenheimer reveals, this dark, violent crime caper was virtually ruined by the "pressure on me to cut the movie," and his commentary makes it easy to see why. Simple things like the lighting on Theron's face changes our opinion of her. Staying with a scene can establish why characters do the things they do later on. Nope. Too long, too complicated, and too violent for the test audience, and so the studios (Miramax, Dimension) demand changes.

A weaker, disjointed movie results, though it was perhaps a poor film either way. Affleck is too clean cut to be a convict, and the reason he goes along with the plan goes begging. Likewise, Theron seems too beautiful for her character. And it's not revealed why such vicious crooks go to great lengths to rob a tacky casino until the very (disappointing) end.
Still, Frankenheimer praises his cast, especially Sinise ("One of the three finest actor's I've ever worked with"). He's also proud of getting Isaac Hayes to eat a bug in prison, and his favourite NFL linebacker for a bit part.

Interestingly, Frankenheimer notes he had a similar response from test audiences on Ronin, though the studio allowed it to be released with only a minor change. This twisting crime caper compared to that classy, layered espionage thriller? Even his commentary was more gripping then.
Shannon J. Harvey

Published August 30, 2001

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STARS: Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise, Dennis Farina, James Frain, Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III.

DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer

SCRIPT: Ehren Kruger

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Director John Frankenheimer's commentary; Behind the scenes featurette; Trailer, Cast and crew biographies; 21 scene selections; Dolby Digital 5.1; Subtitles for hearing impaired; Original widescreen presentation

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