Jerzy Skolimowski wrote and directed this brilliant story about four foreign workers who come to London under false pretense to restore an apartment. Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons stars as Nowak, the only one of the four Polish workers who speaks and understands English. While they are deep in the midst of reconstruction, Poland is swept by political turmoil. The military have imposed martial law, outlawed the unions and put the free world on alert. Nowak, aware of the situation through phone calls and news reports, must keep knowledge of it from his co-workers until the job is finished, and also figure out a way to get his fellow workers home before it's too late. The film won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival the year it was screened.
Sometimes, a movie simply does not age well. Some movies are just a piece of they're particular time and place and so current to the moments at hand that when viewed twenty or thirty years later the sense of urgency or power has dwindled. 'Moonlighting' is one of those incredibly good films that unfortunately feels of an era. Had I seen this film long ago I think my connection towards it may have been stronger. Looking at it now some twenty plus years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and I feel like I need to read an encyclopedia just so I can understand the importance of some the world events depicted on screen. It's a very good film, but I imagine this one will only have resonate meaning for a select audience.
Nowak (Jeremy Irons) along with three companions have newly arrived in London from Communist held Poland. Only they're not in this strange new land seeking freedom as political refugees - they're there to work. Nowak works for a man who is part of the diplomatic envoy to England and needs his flat renovated to his liking. Of course this man could hire local English workers, but why do that when you can send out cheep labor of your own that would cost only a quarter of the price? As the only English speaking member of the group, it is Nowak's job to manage the renovations, get supplies, provisions and ensure the men don't get too used to their freer surroundings.
As the work progresses they encounter some of the locals. Some are happy to have them in the country believing they're part of the rising Solidarity movement, others see these men as a foreign blight that will bring down the country. Since the other men don't understand what's being said to them, it's entirely on Nowak to translate at will. He's there to do a job, one that will pay him greatly upon his return. The dream of providing a better life for his young wife is what keeps him focused and going strong - even when he begins to worry that his boss is making romantic moves towards her.
Part of their budget is intended for entertainment, so they decide the best way to spend the money would be on a television set. Through this luxury item they're able to watch soccer and local television shows - and even the news when the set actually works. Again, because Nowak is the only one that understands what is being said, he's the only one that knows of the political unrest back home as the communists institute martial law to stamp down the rising power of the Solidarity Trade Union and its members. Now stranded in England without an official political status, Nowak must figure out how finish the job and how to get his men back home.
Knowing the history of writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski as an exiled Solidarity supporter goes a long way to understanding where 'Moonlighting' is coming from. This is a man's response to being deposed from his home, family, and friends and cast to a new strange land. However, the film's politics are a bit muddled. If this is really a message film about the spirit and humanity of the Polish people being trampled on - Nowak is probably the least sympathetic character to follow. I can empathize with his need to provide for his wife and his desire to get home to her - but he also seems willfully blind to the fact that his efforts to restore his boss' property are just as exploitive of him as they are his three workers. It's also hard to have a political feeling about this movie when Nowak is the only character we have to follow. We never get to spend any time with the three other men. They're speaking polish but without any subtitles we never get to know them, who they are, their background, or their views of the unrest in their homeland.
At the center of the film is Jeremy Irons and as expected he delivers a commanding performance with the bulk of the dramatic weight resting entirely on his shoulders. It's easy to see why in just a few short years he'd take home an Oscar for 'Reversal of Fortune.' Director Skolimowski does a fine job making use of his leading man, but again, since he's the only one we really get to know or follow, it's hard to have much feeling for him - even when the world he knows and loves is turned upside down. This film could have just as easily been a one man stage show as much of the dialogue is done in voice over. The property he and his men are renovating becomes allegorical as a means of symbolism for what the people of Poland are trying to build, but so much of the film is spent dancing around a definitive statement that it became increasingly hard to feel anything even when their funds dwindle and Nowak must go to excessive means just to keep his men fed.
Part of my reaction to this film is certainly because of the fact that I was only a child when many of these world events happened. I only have passing recollections of Solidarity and some vague images of the wall coming down. Because this film has a singular viewpoint it's difficult to put it in a historical context. It's a response piece to an event that happened over 30 years ago - and as that, it works. It's certainly a fascinating movie and one worth watching even if my muted response doesn't suggest that I enjoyed it. I found a lot of the movie quite intriguing - especially since I ended up spending a lot of time reading more about these historical events I previously only a had a vague understanding of. As an added bonus for scorehounds, this film offers one of if not the first film compositions by Hans Zimmer! If you're up for seeing Jeremy Irons do what he does best, this is a great showcase piece for his talents. As a movie itself, it's intriguing but unless you have a fuller understanding of the political climate of that ere it may leave you puzzled as to what is going on and why.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Moonlighting' arrives on a region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard 2 disc case with DVD, the disc opens to a congested main menu that has all of the special features and options upfront. The DVD contains identical content and bonus features as the Blu-ray. The inside booklet contains an essay by Ewa Mazierska.
'Moonlighting' may be film from over 30 years ago - but that doesn't keep it from enjoying an impressively beautiful 1.85:1 HD image. Colors are purposefully muted in places to replicate the more political sentimentalities of the main character but that doesn't keep primaries from popping beautifully. Greens and reds in particular have a lot of life - especially in well lit outdoor scenes. Likewise flesh tones are spot on and never appear overly pink or too pale - unless the scene dictates it. With fine film grain intact, details are absolutely spectacular. Clothing and close up facial features are the obvious players to appreciate but it was also fun taking in all of the background imagery. Without any kind of egregious compression issues, black levels and shadows show a lot of range providing a subdued yet impactful sense of three dimensional depth - especially as Nowak and his crew start tearing down the London flat. An impressive transfer all around that I'm having a hard time finding anything to fault it for.
As with the video presentation, 'Moonlighting' engages the audience with a strong LPCM 2.0 English Mono track. Most of the film keeps to the quiet midranges with only intermittent spikes with demolition equipment here and there. Most of the film is carried by dialogue and thankfully if the words are being spoken by a character or are part of Nowak's inner monologue - everything comes through with absolute crystal clarity. Even without much in the way of imaging, the sound elements enjoy fine separation affording the sound effects, spoken dialogue, and the low dissonant synth score from Hans Zimmer to occupy equal space nicely. A full stereo remix might have been nice - but as far as a mono track goes it has a lot of power behind it.
Audio Commentary: Jeremy Irons discusses the production, shooting the film, and details the physical labor side as well. A nice track, if perhaps a tad quiet at times since he's all alone without anyone to play off of, there can be significant lulls.
Isolated Score: A Scorehounds' dream come true. The music was composed by Hans Zimmer with Stanley Myers. Myers is credited first, but so much of the score is indicative of Zimmer's tendencies it's hard to detect the split between the two.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 3:09) Much of the film plays out in full in this three minute trailer. Not that there is a lot to spoil, but it does give a lot away.
While 'Moonlighting' may be a film of a particular era, it is one that offers a lot to appreciate. Jeremy Irons was at the cusp of his career having only stared in a few films and television series up to that point. He brings a lot to the role and the movie is worth seeing for his performance alone. If this is the kind of movie that catches your interest, you should be incredibly happy with the stellar A/V presentation as well as the smattering of extras included with this disc. Recommended.