In 1950s Los Angeles, Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) leads an elite squad of four detectives who play by their own rules, dealing with criminals the only way they know how - with deadly force. But when they investigate the murder of a beautiful young woman (Jennifer Connelly), the detectives find themselves embroiled in a high-level conspiracy...and faced with a terrifying secret that the US government is determined to keep hidden - at any price.
Back in 1996, an all-star cast along with odd director Lee Tamahori made a 50's noir gangster film called 'Mulholland Falls', not to be confused with 'Mulholland Drive'. This ambitious project was focused on a real life team of detectives in Los Angeles called the 'Hat Squad' who solved crimes and stopped bad guys by any means necessary, even if it meant getting their hands dirty. This was Tamahori's second feature film to direct, before he went on to make a string of mediocre to downright awful films, including the 'xXx' sequel, Nic Cage in 'Next', and 'Along Came A Spider'.
However with 'Mulholland Falls', Tamahori used his detailed creative mind to get the 50s to look perfect, managing and creating each shot flawlessly. Every moment of the film looks amazing, but that's about as far as it goes. While Tamahori was focusing on the visual style and framing, the story and script got away from him, which led to a movie with almost zero character development between four detectives. It's almost as if we are seeing a sequel film to something we never knew existed. It would have been nice to know these four Los Angeles detectives before we see them in action -- which would have us sympathize or relate to them in some form or fashion, but we don't, even though their performances are fairly good.
There just isn't a lot of development with their origins or rapport, leaving us cold when something drastic happens. The leader of this detective outfit is Hoover (Nick Nolte, grunts and all), along with Hall (Michael Madsen), Relyea (Chris Penn), and Coolige (Chazz Palminteri). We meet these guys as they throw a mob boss off a cliff on Mulholland Drive, hence the title of the film. Needless to say, this isn't the way we have come to know how police conduct their business. Soon enough though, their police chief (Bruce Dern) informs them of a dead body (Jennifer Connelly) near a construction site to investigate.
The team notices that every single bone is broken in her body. From here, the detectives soon realize that this woman's death might just travel up the political ladder to the very top, as they investigate nuclear test sites and other political offices. Betrayal, sex tapes, and friendships all come to the forefront here in hopes to blackmail one another to prevent the government from looking bad, and it's up to these four detectives to figure out how this poor woman died, before they lose their own lives.
With supporting performances from Rob Lowe, John Malkovich, Andrew McCarthy, Treat Williams, Daniel Baldwin and Melanie Griffith as Hoover's wife, the film moves at a quick pace, although some of the side storylines run off in a tangent. I think Tamahori couldn't focus on this huge cast, while trying to create 50's Los Angeles at the same time, and the actors did the best they could with what they had. Some did better than others, as Melanie Griffith won the infamous Razzie Award for her performance here. It's hard not to compare the recent 'Gangster Squad' film to this, as it's very similar in nature.
While it might not have that over-the-top 'Dick Tracy' feel to the movie, it borders on that same line with some overly dramatic dialogue and emotions from time to time. That, and everyone smokes cigarettes in the film from start to finish. 'Mulholland Falls' isn't a terrible film by any means, but it just isn't great either. It lacks the focus and coherence to make us fully invested, despite the awesome cast.
'Mulholland Falls' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This film was made in 1996, but takes place in the early 50s, and has a certain vintage look to it. Detail is sharp and vivid in the well-lit exteriors, particularly during close-ups, which reveal good facial features on the actors as well as the fine textures in the period clothing. Set designs and props also look decent here as well. Other than those several instances, the look of the picture is quite soft with a bit of cloudiness covering the film from time to time.
Flashbacks in the movie are even more muddled. Colors never seem to pop off screen with bright, vibrant, primary colors, but seem to be true to the time period with its rusty and bleak look. Skin tones are natural and black levels are deep. There is a nice layer of grain that really never fluctuates either, keeping this noir feeling in tact. There are some issues still with some dirt and debris with the print, as well with some minor video noise, but that's about it, leaving this video presentation slightly better than average.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix as well as a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo option. The 5.1 option is definitely the option to go with, however both mixes sound very similar, due to the 5.1 mix being very front-heavy. During the heavier violent action sequences, the sound never packs a big punch, nor does it fully immerse you, because whatever ambient noises or surround effects there are sound soft and quiet for the most part, at least in the surround speakers. If there is noise coming from the front speakers, they tend to be loud and well defined and balanced.
Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow though, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and high shrills. The score always adds to the noir genre feel and handles the suspense very well, without drowning out any dialogue or sound effects. The bass never really rumbles unless there is an intense action sequence, and even then it isn't robust, leaving this audio presentation with average marks.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
'Mulholland Falls' lacks a cohesive narrative, due to not developing the characters enough or telling a suspenseful story. Even the climax of the film isn't worthy of a gasp. I wish it was different, due to the amazing cast here, but overall, this film is mostly forgettable in that regard. That being said, the movie visually looks amazing, as is Dave Grusin's score. The video and audio presentations are both decent, but will not wow anyone, and the only extra is a theatrical trailer. That all being said, if you're curious about this noir film, rent it first, before making the purchase.