Steve McQueen will forever be recognized as one of Hollywood's most iconic movie stars. His rugged good looks, bad-boy sexuality and searing charisma set him apart as he grew from a small-town rebel to become the highest paid and most sought-after actor of his generation. He was notorious for challenging authority and lived life for himself. Nicknamed the "king of cool", his volatile yet endearing anti-hero persona was as much a part of who he really was as an individual as the characters he portrayed on-screen. Combining extensive original interviews, including rare interviews with Steve McQueen himself, the best of Steve's major motion pictures and archival footage, the film chronicles McQueen's extraordinary career while focusing on the correlation between his on-screen and off-screen experiences. 'I Am Steve McQueen' tells the incredible life story of this legendary actor, racer and cultural icon. The film features McQueen's family and friends and an all-star cast including Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, Marisa Miller, Ali MacGraw, Robert Vaughn, Randy Couture, Zoe Bell, Kristin Kreuk and Ben Mankiewicz and narration by Robert Downey Jr.
There's no denying that Steve McQueen was one of the most (if not the most) popular actors of the 60s and 70s, earning him the nickname "The King of Cool" for a combination of his movie-star looks, his love of action sequences, and his steely-eyed calm stare that melted millions of women's hearts and made millions of guys want to emulate him. This new documentary, 'I Am Steve McQueen', takes a look at the actor's professional and personal lives, aided by comments from his family and friends, actors that worked with him, and actors who admired him.
Given the entertaining subject here, the first half hour or so of this 93-minute documentary is surprisingly slow and by-the-numbers, as narrator Robert Downey, Jr. along with 'talking-head' comments from the likes of Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, and Chad McQueen (Steve's son), among others, sort of go through the motions talking about McQueen's upbringing, his early days in New York City as an actor, and some of his first roles. In fact, it's only really when the focus goes away from his on-screen work that this documentary really starts to take off.
There's a big chunk in the second half hour of the movie devoted to McQueen's passion for cars and motorcycles (and, much later, planes) that I found to be highly engaging, even though I don't have any personal passion for automobiles (other than needing one to get around in). There's a definite connection made here between McQueen's love for speed and the idea that he wanted to get the most out of every moment of his life. There's even the thought that since McQueen spent so much of his youth in a boy's home he was constantly trying to run away from, having a fast car by his side as a grown-up was almost a security blanket that, should he ever need to make a fast escape, one was nearby.
McQueen's love for speed played a big part in a lot of his movies, too. We learn here that McQueen had walked off the set of The Great Escape, and only returned when additional scenes were written for his character, including the now famous motorcycle chase. Again in the classic Bullitt, what is considered the greatest car chase in cinema history was reportedly completely designed by McQueen himself, and that's actually him in many (although not all) of the shots in the final film. Even when he wasn't racing vehicles, McQueen still wanted to do his own stunts. That incredibly high jump off the cliff in Papillon? That's no stuntman – that's McQueen, who called it one of the most exhilarating things he ever did as an actor.
The last part of 'I Am Steve McQueen' deals with the actor's untimely death (at the young age of 50) from cancer, the result of being exposed to asbestos when he served in the Marines. Viewers learn that McQueen fought his illness right up to the end, being someone who truly loved life and didn't want to let it go. It's a rather strong ending for a documentary that starts out pretty slow, and proves to be a fitting tribute to the memory of the actor.
The only real downside to 'I Am Steve McQueen' is that if you're a huge fan of McQueen, there's probably not a whole lot new here in terms of information or footage. However, someone who is that big of a fan will probably love this doc enough to want to own it. For the rest of us, this is a pretty well made tribute to a Hollywood legend. So no matter what your background knowledge of McQueen is, this release is solidly recommended.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'I Am Steve McQueen' arrives on Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the single-layer 25GB Blu-ray with no inserts. The reverse side of the keepcase slick (seen from inside the box) is a photo of McQueen's famous Mustang from the movie Bullitt, along with the main credits for the movie (as one might see on a movie poster). There are no front-loaded trailers on the disc, which goes straight to the main menu after a brief logo for Shout! Factory. The main menu consists of video footage and stills from the documentary, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is Region A-locked.
'I Am Steve McQueen' is a mix of brand-new interview footage (shot digitally), footage from McQueen's film library, old interview footage, personal home movies, and various still images – both professional and private. Obviously, the new interview footage is the best looking of the lot, with the crisp detail and sharpness one would expect. However, the movie footage looks remarkably good as well, and I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference here between what's in this documentary and the look of the actual Blu-ray release of said movie. There's an older black and white video of an interview McQueen did (of which bits and pieces are used through the documentary) that looks like it may have been cleaned up for this release. Other footage – particularly home movies – looks pretty grainy, although it's what you'd expect to see, given the source. Despite all the various pieces, the creators have done a pretty good job in making it flow together naturally, so the look of the movie isn't too jarring from one scene to the next.
In terms of any actual transfer issues, there are no obvious ones that I was able to detect. In short, this is a very nice-looking release from the folks over at Shout! Factory.
The only audio option here is an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that more than does its job for a talking-head documentary such as this one. Even in stereo, there's not a whole lot of interplay between the two front speakers, which mostly have the same sound coming out of them, with the exception of some of the soundtrack and a few of the movie clips interspersed throughout. With that in mind, all of the new footage has crisp and clear dialogue, although some of the archival stuff from McQueen – particularly some of his interview clips – do have just a hint of muddiness and scratchiness to them. Overall, though, this is a solid track with few complaints.
Subtitles are available in English.
After a slow start, 'I Am Steve McQueen' turns into an interesting and worthwhile look at the life of a Hollywood icon. The most interesting stuff here, though, isn't about his movie career but about McQueen's personal life and passions. While there may not be a whole lot new that die-hard followers of McQueen will learn from this documentary, it's certainly a solid retrospective of the actor. Recommended.