The espionage thriller has long been a subgenre concerning distrust in authority, and Jean-Claude Lord’s 1989 Canadian production Mindfield presents that distrust as C-grade, hammy, low-budget effort that smashes together various sources often visited in Canuxploitation. The Michael Ironside-starrer smacks of a video store oddity, though it isn’t without some egregious pleasures. Canadian International Pictures presents the film on Blu-ray for the first time ever with a decent presentation and a nice collection of supplements. This release is Worth A Look!
There’s something rather comforting within the cheap confines of a production like Mindfield. All the regular faces of Canadian filmmaking are there, like Christopher Plummer, Lisa Langlois, Sean McCann, and George Sperdakos. Although Canadian filmmaking history in general hasn’t been given the thorough assessment it deservedly needs, you can see how different regional productions have the same talent usually both behind and in front of the camera. Something like Mindfield was no exception to the rule, as it was a low-budget genre effort offering the kind of ham-fisted entertainment that was littering video stores at the time. But where it differs from the usual crop is in how Jean-Claude Lord very clearly approaches the material closer to something like The Manchurian Candidate than a cheapo action film with Ironside.
Unfortunately, that Ironside element became a point of contention with Lord, who apparently had a very difficult relationship working with the actor. You can see that difficulty on screen, too, as Ironside is flat and hammy despite the proceedings offering the chance to go deeper. Christopher Plummer does show up in particularly broad fashion, to be fair, though to a much lesser degree and it fits a bit more with his character than Ironside’s.
Mindfield follows Sergeant Kellen O’Reilly (Ironside) as he starts to have violent flashbacks of his treatment at the hands of the diabolical Dr. Satorius (Plummer) as part of a CIA mind control program involving MK Ultra. The bodies keep piling up in Kellen’s new case and point right toward his dark past, forcing him to confront Satorius’ schemes throughout a hall-of-mirrors conspiracy. Kellen’s relationship with a hotshot lawyer named Sarah (Lisa Langlois) -- who’s prosecuting Satorius in a criminal suit – sends him further down a path of mental unraveling.
There’s a distinct difference between Lord’s execution of the story compared to the script itself. I found the dialogue and characterizations rather thin, with Ironside and Plummer falling in conveniently with the sinister doctor and amnesiac patient tropes. Langlois’ lawyer even threatens to explore something deeper within the power structures built to oppress us. A heady thing, sure, though certainly a deep well that isn’t really visited here. And according to the supplements attached to this release, this was partially because the ideas and inspiration frequently outgrew the budget. Thus, what’s left is a pared-down version of what Lord really wanted. If you’re looking for genre thrills with a bit more on its mind than most, than Mindfield may hit that sweet spot for you. As mentioned earlier, there’s something comforting about a crime thriller of this budget level, and Jean-Claude Lord really lends a sturdy visual eye to the proceedings.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Once a video store hit, Mindfield is presented on Blu-ray with a single-disc (BD50) release that comes housed in a clear Viva case. A booklet with writing by Fantasia programmer Marc Lamothe is included, and the sleeve of the case is reversible with new artwork by Robert Sammelin on one side and original artwork on the other. The case comes housed in a limited-edition slipcover (available only at VinegarSyndrome.com and select indie retailers) with the same art by Robert Sammelin seen on the sleeve.
Sourced from a new 2K restoration of the 35mm interpositive performed by Éléphant - mémoire du cinéma Québécois, this 1080p AVC-encoded presentation is good despite the production’s clear limitations. Shot in Montreal, Mindfield has a lot of beiges, browns and grey hues that are inherent to the location, and I think this restoration does pull a good amount of detail out of the source despite falling a bit short. Grain is quite thick throughout the presentation, though the encode handles it nicely and grain doesn’t appear to clump or anything. Overall, this is a nice presentation.
The attached 2.0 DTS-HD MA track is sourced from the original 35mm magnetic final mix, and you can tell right away that this is true with clear and crisp dialogue. Gunshots and explosions don’t have the most range, although the majority of sound effects have more depth than other films of the era. Emotional moments with the score are balanced nicely, too.
Canadian International Pictures was clearly excited and inspired to release Mindfield, as they have included a terrific collection of supplements to shed light on the film. Even if you search online, there’s not a ton of information to be found about the production, but now we have talent interviews to keep the history alive in a way. The interview with George Mihalka in particular is quite interesting, as the director makes no concessions about how difficult it was to make the film. If you enjoy the film at all, you’ll be looking at some great contextual features on the other side of watching it.
Mind control meets hammy Michael Ironside in Mindfield. There’s plenty to enjoy in CIP’s release of the film, including a nice collection of supplements newly produced for this release. Although the film isn’t the best representation of underrated Canadian filmmaking, this release is for sure Worth A Look.